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NBC on NASCAR podcast: Parker Kligerman on iRacing, tonight’s race

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We’re going racing tonight!

While NASCAR and all other forms of sports in the U.S. are shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, iRacing.com is the place to be tonight for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. ET from a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Click here for a preview of tonight’s race.

One individual who is in his second season as an iRacing team owner is NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who co-owns Burton/Kligerman eSports with fellow NBC Sports NASCAR analyst and former Cup driver Jeff Burton.

Their drivers are Ashton Crowder (drives the No. 77 Valvoline car) and Logan Clampitt (drives the No. 99 Valvoline car, an homage to Burton, who primarily drove that car number during his Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing). Crowder currently leads the series’ points, coming off a recent win at the virtual Auto Club Speedway.

 

Kligerman joined Nate Ryan on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast and spoke about his involvement in online sports, as well as being a iRacing team co-owner.

“Obviously, eSports is a big topic these days,” Kligerman told Ryan. “I’ve always been a big fan of Valvoline cars growing up, how good they looked, the paint schemes and everything and I thought how cool it would be to have them as those cars.”

Crowder and Clampitt are among the 20 drivers in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Among other team owners in the series are NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte, as well as NASCAR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron.

Byron is particularly notable as he literally began his racing career on the iRacing platform just nine years ago.

The eSports and iRacing platforms have become quite popular – and likely will gain even greater notoriety and attention during the current conditions.

Of note, Kligerman gave Ryan some key statistics: Across the Twitch, YouTube, eNASCAR.com and Facebook platforms, iRacing has averaged 180,000 viewers live, with an average retention time a person watches a race of between 19 and 30 minutes per person.

Another key point: the annual championship purse has jumped from over $100,000 last year to $300,000 this season.

“I don’t like the term ‘eSports’ anymore because I think of traditional eSports as doing something different,” Kligerman told Ryan. “We’re ‘eMotorsports’, we’re trying to help a sport that already exists build a base and gain a new audience and be exposed to people that can never be exposed to it on a competitive level.”

That fellow drivers like Hamlin, Larson and Byron have joined the series as team owners also speaks to the increasing popularity of eSports, particularly on the iRacing platform.

“It’s big,” Kligerman said. “When you get people like Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron, that sort of continually validates that.”

Owning an eSports/iRacing team also gives individuals a chance to do something they probably wouldn’t be able to do in real life.

“There’s 13 owners of the 20 that don’t own a real car in NASCAR and maybe never will,” Kligerman said. “And I think there’s six or seven that don’t own a real race car at all, maybe eight.

“So, we’re expanding outside the motorsports ecosystem to people that would never be involved in motorsports at the level of being an owner, and yet this allows them to do it, it’s fun and something they can promote and be excited about and promote motorsports and NASCAR to a base that never would have touched it before.”

Even NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is tied to iRacing via a partial sponsorship of Hamlin’s e-team, including Jordan’s famous “Jump Man” logo on the side of the virtual race car of Hamlin’s team.

“One of the pitches to the driver pitching that was that he could meet Michael Jordan,” Kligerman said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I can’t compete with that.’

“Jeff (Burton) and I are really cool, but we’re not Michael Jordan. That was a tough one. I just can’t get over how cool that is. You just brought someone in because it’s not the massive undertaking of having a real race team, and frankly a real race team right now as a business decision is not a very viable business decision as we all now.”

But obviously having an eSports race team is proving to be a very viable and inexpensive business decision and option for many.

To hear this week’s complete podcast, click here.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.