On Tuesday night, prior to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event from Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy announced a brand new series planned to run this spring: the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.
The first event will take place on Sunday, March 22nd at 1:30 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on FS1. It will consist of a 100-lap race around a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, the same location of the planned NASCAR races this weekend prior to their postponement due to the coronavirus outbreak. Fox’s Cup announcer booth of Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon will call the action, being joined by rules analyst Larry McReynolds. Clint Bowyer will serve as the in-race “driver analyst,” racing from a sim rig inside the Fox studios.
The race will be an exhibition with no points or money on the line.
There are no announced stages or half-time breaks.
The event will feature a “closed” setup, meaning that every driver has the same common setup with no differences. It’s unclear if NASCAR will be allowing drivers to “quick-fix” race cars.
The field will consist of 35 professional NASCAR drivers, with NASCAR Cup Series drivers being granted automatic entry while the remaining drivers must qualify their way in.
NASCAR has confirmed the following 23 entrants as “Cup drivers,” presumably being locked in as such:
- Christopher Bell
- Alex Bowman
- Clint Bowyer
- Chris Buescher
- Kyle Busch
- William Byron
- Landon Cassill
- Ross Chastain
- Matt DiBenedetto
- Austin Dillon
- Ty Dillon
- Chase Elliott
- Denny Hamlin
- Erik Jones
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Larson
- Joey Logano
- Michael McDowell
- John Hunter Nemechek
- Ryan Preece
- Garrett Smithley
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Bubba Wallace
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte will also be competing, but it’s currently unknown whether the two will be locked into the field. Considering that one is a NASCAR Hall of Famer and the other is, um, Dale Earnhardt Jr., it’s fair to say they will probably not have to qualify for the race. If that’s the case, it would leave 10 “open” slots in the field.
Drivers not locked in but have been rumored or confirmed by the driver-in-question on social media include:
Qualifying will take place prior to the race on Sunday in an televised session. The 150-mile race will require at least one pit stop for fuel, although at a track like Homestead, the issue is more going to be about tire wear.
As far as who to watch out for on Sunday, there are a few people you wouldn’t expect who are probably going to have a say in this thing. Hill and Earnhardt both have legitimate eNASCAR experience, with Earnhardt having won the iRacing Series’ inaugural race in 2010 and Hill making over 50 starts in the series. Kligerman and Majeski have way more experience running iRacing than established Cup veterans such as Busch or Austin Dillon. Hamlin is hailed as the GOAT among many in the community when it comes to NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, the game where iRacing’s roots were laid, but Hamlin also hasn’t been nearly as active on iRacing as he was in NR2003.
Probably the most interesting development in the past couple of days from a competition standpoint was Earnhardt’s reveal of a practice session result, which showed Kligerman pacing the field. Kligerman also performed well at the two biggest iRacing events from this past week, The Replacements 100 on Sunday and Truck Series Night In America on Thursday night, but couldn’t get the win in either one. If there’s any open driver the Cup drivers need to watch out for on Sunday, it has to be Kligerman.