We’re coming towards the end of the invitational series. The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge wrapped up Saturday, while there’s only one more eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event left. As announced Sunday, that will be at the not-even-released yet North Wilkesboro Speedway. Even though the series are ending, last weekend proved that there’s still plenty of time for shenanigans.
Finish Line 150
Sunday brought the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series to the virtual Dover International Speedway for 150 laps of action. This race was probably the first one to really show a difference between two and four tires, meaning that tire strategy was key.
We also had a change in the broadcast. Clint Bowyer decided to take the week off from racing. In his place, Regan Smith drove a No. 78 Chevrolet in the event, painted up to resemble the car he won the Showtime Southern 500 with back in 2011. He had a tough day out there. He wasn’t alone.
This race was full of wrecks. 40 of the 150 laps were run under caution. The percentage of laps under yellow (26.6 repeating%) were equal to the percentage of teams that made it to the temple on Legends of the Hidden Temple and won the grand prize. That’s a lot.
The wrecking was the big story on Sunday because you can never get the full picture of these wrecks. You rarely see them in real time and the replays don’t show everything. The finish we got Sunday (which was a good one) was set up by John Hunter Nemechek intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin while racing for third.
Apparently, Hamlin had dumped Nemechek on pit road earlier in the race, but we never saw that. Smith did make a brief audio reference to it. Regardless, Jeff Gluck knew it was coming before it even happened.
John Hunter Nemechek is going to try and wreck Hamlin on purpose. Watch out.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 3, 2020
In situations like that, I just seem lost with these iRacing broadcasts. It’s not like I’m not paying attention. Believe me, I am. Had that occurred during a FOX or NBC broadcast, we would have been much better informed.
In addition, I had some feed problems during the broadcast. There were two occasions where my screen became pixelated and I couldn’t make out anything on the screen. I can’t assume that this issue affected everyone, but if it did, by all means comment below.
Even race winner William Byron wasn’t immune from getting into wreck fever. On the final restart, he turned Landon Cassill entering turn 1, collecting Ross Chastain in the process. The broadcast was on Cassill’s in-car camera when the wreck happened, so you saw that live. Of the 36 drivers that started Sunday, only Ryan Blaney, who finished seventh, managed to get through the race without racking up any incident points (Byron would have been clean as well had he not spun out Cassill).
Outside of the wrecks, which I don’t think will be all that likely once NASCAR actually races at Dover this year (that’s currently scheduled for August, but who knows when it’s going to happen), I doubt the race will look like this. It will be tough to drive, that’s for sure. Getting loose will happen. You’ll have some decent racing, like the battle we had for the win. Tires are going to matter and they definitely did Sunday.
Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon treat the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational races as something fun to do to kill time. I probably take it more seriously than they do. They like the fact that there are no official points standings. That said, there are unofficial points standings. I’ve compiled standings for the series using two separate points systems. The points using the pre-stages points system are currently on our eNASCAR page. I’ve got 1975-2003 Winston Cup-style points as well, but there aren’t many differences. The races are pretty fun, if a bit wreck prone. If anything, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series races (with the exception of Richmond) have been cleaner.
Post-race coverage was fairly brief since the broadcast went long once again. Viewers got interviews with the top two finishers (Byron and Timmy Hill) before leaving the air.
Overall, there was good racing to be had on Sunday in between the wrecks and generally, the event was entertaining. I just wish I didn’t feel so lost at times. I’m not slipping as a writer and a critic. I’m just not seeing what viewers and I need to see. When everything gets back underway at Darlington, you’ll see the difference.
First Responder 175 presented by GMR
Saturday was the final race of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. It was originally supposed to be a “Dream Race” at a non-INDYCAR track. Places like Talladega and the Nordschliefe were pitched. Ultimately, it ended up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
During the Circuit of the Americas broadcast that I critiqued last week, it was noted that INDYCAR was going to lock in certain drivers. Everyone else was going to have to qualify on speed Wednesday. That session was not broadcast in any way. That wasn’t a good move. There were ultimately about 39 or 40 drivers (including Kyle Busch and James Hinchcliffe) that planned to race Saturday despite there only being 33 spots in the race. I wasn’t expecting NBCSN to air that live on Wednesday, but streaming via YouTube and/or Twitch could have been made available.
Of course, looking back at this race, it will be remembered best for what happened in the final five laps or so. Arrow McLaren SP was looking good for a 1-2-3 finish after Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal crashed out of contention. Then, heck went down.
First, you have the retaliation from Pagenaud on Lando Norris. I thought just watching it live that the move was intentional. The camera wasn’t on Norris at the time of the crash, so you couldn’t see the contact. The booth was a little slow to notice that Norris had been wrapped up in the wreck, but they immediately saw Pagenaud’s involvement. There was no notion at first on the broadcast that this lunacy was intentional. In fact, Marty Snider reported that it was not intentional since Pagenaud was apparently coming into the pits. Sure enough, he did say that. However, you needed to back up the stream a couple of minutes. The stream cannot be embedded from Facebook, but it is still viewable on Pagenaud’s Facebook page. The heck starts around one hour and 48 minutes in.
Yeah, that’s bush league, no doubt about that. I don’t think anything Norris did here was intentional. Just incredibly optimistic. Pretty much no one goes three-wide in a short chute at Indianapolis.
Then, we had the final lap. With Norris out, Oliver Askew inherited the lead with Patricio O’Ward right there. Marcus Ericsson might have been better than both of them. He got through with a three-wide pass. Then, things got stupid again.
Completely unnecessary there from O’Ward as well. That left Askew and Santino Ferrucci to battle for the win. Then, Ferrucci hung a left directly into Askew, which gave Scott McLaughlin the win. It’s as if Ferrucci decided to channel Cartman in South Park‘s “Poor and Stupid” episode from 2010.
Oh man. As you’ve probably seen by now, this was completely ridiculous. Other than Ericsson’s sweet move to get the lead, none of this would happen in real life. Not unless you had a death wish and didn’t care about the consequences. Not having to put your body on the line makes people braver, I guess. This stuff was more along the lines of the post-race crashes on Dinner With Racers‘ Thursday Night Blunder. Do I think that’s going to affect anything in INDYCAR once the actual racing returns? I don’t know.
Outside of that ridiculousness, I found Saturday’s race to be a little hard to follow. You notice things out of the corner of your eye and can’t quite make out who it is. Then, it’s never paid off. It makes you miss the fully produced race broadcasts that we normally get this time of year.
Post-race coverage was interesting. We got interviews with the top three finishers (McLaughlin, Conor Daly and Ferrucci). Here, Ferrucci made it sound like he was trying to side-draft Askew, as if this were a NASCAR race. I’m unclear on the effects of side-drafting in INDYCAR, but I don’t think this was a side-draft. The angle of attack was way too sharp. Time was very tight, but I believe that they should have pressed Ferrucci on the issue.
With that, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge is complete. It was a fun sextet of races. The series was always for fun and it seemed like there was plenty of that to be had. Then, people started getting ridiculous. With nothing else going on, this was pretty much the only show in town on Saturday and the takeaway seemed to be that this was a bunch of shenanigans.
I’m definitely not promoting the idea of stuff happening in sim races actually affecting the actual real-life racing. There is at least one series that has announced something along those lines. While the racing will always be competitive, it’s not that big of a deal. At the same time, you can’t go acting like a moron, and Saturday’s action went too far in that direction for my taste.
That’s all for this weekend. Next weekend is Mother’s Day weekend. By tradition in NASCAR, there will be no racing on Sunday. That said, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series will wrap up (for now) Saturday at the new virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway. That track is based on North Wilkesboro in 1987. At the time, it was the only track on the calendar without a wall separating the pit lane from the pit equipment for most of the pit lane (it wasn’t installed for the full length until improvements in 1988 saw a garage constructed and the wall lengthened). TV listings can be seen in the TV tab above.
I will provide a critique of the North Wilkesboro event in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. Beyond the North Wilkesboro race, I’ll wrap the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and give overarching thoughts on the series.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.