NASCAR waves the green flag on season
The absence of sports for the last two months has left a longing for some type of competition in many of our lives. The office discussion of who is the best player or team as well as the constant banter back and forth helps pass the work day.
NASCAR is about to change all that and return to real live-action racing, minus the fans of course. On May 17 at Darlington, the drivers will jump from the simulator back to sitting behind the real steering wheel. Besides no fans in attendance, the race will be unique in that there will be no practices or qualifiers. Teams will roll their cars off the hauler straight to the pit box and then to the starting line.
Many drivers have been off for near two months now, so the action going into “The Lady in Black” could end up being hairy.
A lot of drivers have spent the time off participating in the iRacing visual simulator Pro-Invitational Series. This is as close as you can get right now to the real thing although virtual iRacing is not just a video game, but a driving simulator. All the NASCAR tracks are scanned to the minute detail; for example, the bump coming out of turn four at Kentucky Speedway is the same bump you will see on iRacing’s Kentucky Speedway. Tire wear and gas consumption are just as a big concern as in real life since weather is programmed into the simulation and affects performance.
The one aspect you will quickly notice is the varying degree of skill among the NASCAR drivers. Kyle Bush can drive any vehicles with wheels, but put him in competition on the simulator and he becomes just a middle of the pack driver.
Richard Petty is known as the King of NASCAR, but if you’re betting virtual dollars on the race better put them on William Byron. Byron is the king of iRacing winning three out of five races. Byron is the one driver on the NASCAR circuit that does not have a background driving race cars. He solely learned his driving skills on iRacing and his expertise is easy to see.
While NASCAR, iRacing, and Fox Sports have teamed up with no money or contracts involved in the broadcast for fans, there is a serious side to the business such as Bubba Wallace throwing a temper tantrum and quitting halfway through the race. That move cost him a couple of sponsors and a lot of real cash his team needs to be competitive. On a more serious note, Kyle Larson was released from Chip Gnassi Racing and was replaced with retired former champion Matt Kenseth, for using derogatory language during a race.
Retired driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is just as popular on iRacing as he was on track. Jeff Gordon came out of retirement to run at Darlington and ended up hanging upside down in the catch fence after spinning seven times through the air.
The series will be racing at North Wilkesboro this weekend, a track that was discarded as NASCAR expanded to bigger tracks and larger population locations. Jeff Gordon won the last race held at the track in 1996 and said he will race again this week at the track.
Even if you don’t like the virtual racing as well as the real thing, following Clint Bowyer and his commentary is worth the time. His inrace dialogue and tweets will keep you entertained throughout the event.