Harrison Burton

Photo: iRacing/Twitch

iRacing gives fans a Sunday afternoon with racing

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On a day that NASCAR was to have raced at Atlanta Motor Speedway, before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed that event and halted nearly every sport, there was a race at a virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced Friday that it was postponing its races this weekend at Atlanta and next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. So with no real racing, some competitors went to sim racing.

iRacing set up a 100-lap race Sunday afternoon to give fans at least some form of racing to watch online.

MORE: Coronavirus updates from NBC News

“It all kind of came together Friday when we were home,” said T.J. Majors, spotter for Joey Logano, on the Twitch broadcast of the iRacing event, The Replacements 100. “Bryan Cook had the same idea as I did, Boris at JGR, and then Kevin Hamlin put a lot of work into this as well. … We started adding drivers to the list. A lot of fun. It’s unfortunate circumstances that we’re all home today, but we’re just trying to make the most of it and give people something to do and watch and have some fun.”

Josh Williams, spotter for Ryan Blaney, dominated, winning the event. William Byron was second.

Here is the finishing order:

  1. Josh Williams
  2. William Byron
  3. Steven Steffen
  4. TJ Majors
  5. Parker Kligerman
  6. Tyler Overstreet
  7. Garrett Smithley
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Bubba Wallace
  10. Coleman Pressley
  11. Chase Briscoe
  12. Bryan Boris Cook
  13. Justin Haley
  14. John Theodore
  15. Kevin Iannarelli
  16. KC Heschel
  17. Kyle Long
  18. Anthony Pelican
  19. Tyler Truex
  20. Gary Sexton
  21. Anthony Alfredo
  22. Tim Dugger
  23. John Guidone
  24. Harrison Burton
  25. Myatt Snider
  26. Chad Knaus
  27. Ben Rhodes
  28. Matt Noyce
  29. Justin Allgaier
  30. Alex Bowman
  31. Taylor Gray
  32. Jonathan Davis
  33. Kevin Hamlin
  34. Tyler Ankrum
  35. Noah Gragson

As NASCAR entered its first weekend without racing on the track, Bristol Motor Speedway issued a statement Sunday afternoon. Part of the statement read:

“As these uncertain times unfold, we remain in constant contact with health officials, NASCAR and key stakeholders to continue to monitor this pandemic closely. … We must move forward preparing for our events, even if there’s a chance it might not happen, but know that we’re doing our part to enhance our cleaning efforts, locating additional handwashing for our fan zone areas and providing hand sanitizer around the property.”

Bristol is scheduled to host Cup, Xfinity and ARCA East on April 3-5.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued what it called a guidance Sunday that stated:

“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.

Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

NASCAR driver: ‘Sitting here at home on a Saturday. It feels weird’

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Saturday was to have been the day NASCAR fans found out: Could someone defeat Kyle Busch in a Truck race?

The answer had been no in Busch’s last seven series starts, dating to 2018, but the interest in his streak built the last few weeks.

It started with a Feb. 22 tweet from Kevin Harvick: “I’ll put up a $50,000 bounty for any full time cup driver who races a truck and can beat @KyleBusch in his next 4 races. #gameon.”

Marcus Lemonis, from series sponsor Gander RV & Outdoors, added another $50,000 to Harvick’s bounty. Truck owner Chris Larsen pledged $50,000 to any Truck Series regular who could win a series race with Kyle Busch.

Suddenly, Saturday’s Truck race at Atlanta Motor Speedway became the most anticipated series event since the Trucks ran at Eldora Speedway for the first time in 2013.

With sports shut down, including NASCAR, for the foreseeable future because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday became a day of confusion. What to do with no racing and no sports.

“I’m sitting here at home on a Saturday. It feels weird,” Matt DiBenedetto said in a video to fans.

Ryan Newman, who continues his recovery from a head injury suffered in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500, took time for more of what he called “therapy” on Saturday. He went fishing.

Aric Almirola did some racing at home with his children.

This much is certain. NASCAR postponed this weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend’s races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was to have made his one Xfinity start at Miami. Now? We’ll see.

Next on the schedule is Texas Motor Speedway. It hosts Trucks, Xfinity and Cup on March 27-29.

On Friday, the mayor of Fort Worth, Texas issued a state of emergency that included a mandatory cancelation of any events or gatherings with an expected attendance of 250 people or more. The mandate, though, is for seven days.

Texas Motor Speedway issued a statement Saturday that track officials are “currently preparing to host our regularly scheduled events and will continue consulting with officials on best practices and recommendations.”

But there will be racing Sunday even if Atlanta Motor Speedway will sit silent.

Kevin Hamlin, spotter for Alex Bowman, tweeted that there will be a 100-lap NASCAR industry iRacing event at 3 p.m. ET Sunday. Among those scheduled to take part are Hamlin, Bowman, Earnhardt, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Justin Allgaier, Harrison Burton and crew chief Chad Knaus.

DiBenedetto mentioned in his video to fans about an iRacing event next weekend..

As restrictions continue and events are postponed, the only races for NASCAR fans could be online events with some of the their favorite drivers.

“Hope all this stuff passes,” DiBenedetto said in his video to fans. “Hang with us and we can get back to the racetrack soon.”

Brandon Jones has a Georgia win on his mind

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Ever since he won the Xfinity Series race at Phoenix last Saturday, Brandon Jones – to borrow a line from a Ray Charles song – has had Georgia on his mind.

The Atlanta native is eager to return to his home track for Saturday’s Xfinity race at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway in suburban Hampton, Georgia.

Jones, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra, has had a strong start to the season. He finished fourth at Daytona, sixth at Las Vegas, won the pole at Fontana (but finished 30th) and then passed Kyle Busch for the lead and held on for the final 20 laps to win at Phoenix, giving Toyota its 500th win in NASCAR competition.

“We are coming off a huge win at Phoenix Raceway and our 19 team is really excited about our 2020 season,” Jones said in a media release. “We have a lot of momentum.”

Jones returns to his home turf ranked fourth in the Xfinity point standings, 28 points behind series leader Harrison Burton. More importantly, Jones’ Phoenix win locks the 23-year-old into the Xfinity playoffs.

Jones hopes the momentum from Phoenix carries over to Atlanta. He’s made four Xfinity starts there, with a career-best fourth-place finish in last year’s race.

“Atlanta has not always been one of my strongest tracks, but neither was Phoenix,” Jones said. “Our team is up to the challenge that the track brings with the old surface which makes saving tires part of the strategy.”

That’s why Jones is approaching this weekend’s race in much the same way he approached Phoenix. With all the hard work he and his team have done in preparation for Atlanta, Jones is hoping to make it back-to-back wins.

“(Our) team has spent a lot of time over the offseason preparing for Atlanta; we probably put in 200-laps around the track using Toyota’s simulator,” Jones said. “It’s a fun race and the Atlanta fans are great.

“I think if we get our Supra dialed in to run the bottom of the track, we will be the team in victory lane.”

NOTES: Kyle Busch Motorsports announced today that Jones will return to the organization for four races in the No. 51 Tundra during the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season: June 12 at Iowa Speedway, at Pocono on June 27, at Kentcky Speedway on July 9 and Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30.

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Xfinity set to reach new track winner mark for first time in 22 years

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Unless Joe Nemechek, who hasn’t won a NASCAR Xfinity race since 2004, wins Saturday’s Xfinity event at Atlanta Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1), the series will accomplish something that hasn’t been done since Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first championship season in the series

A non-Nemechek winner will become the fifth driver to earn their first victory at a track in the opening five races of the season.

They’ll have Brandon Jones to thank.

When Jones passed Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go on his way to a win at Phoenix Raceway last weekend, he kept Busch from claiming his 12th series victory on the 1-mile track.

While it was Jones’ second career Xfinity win, it was his first at Phoenix.

Jones followed Noah Gragson‘s first career win to open the year at Daytona, Chase Briscoe‘s first win at Las Vegas and Harrison Burton‘s first career victory at Auto Club Speedway.

Now here’s where we make you feel old.

The Xfinity Series has not seen a new track winner in each of the first five races of a season since 1998. That year, the first 10 races of the year featured new track winners, including the first career wins of Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth.

The streak is primarily a sign of the times. The trio of Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell, who won 34 of 99 Xfinity races over the previous three seasons, have moved to the Cup Series.

It’s also a result of NASCAR limiting drivers who earn points in the Cup Series to five Xfinity starts a year.

Busch isn’t scheduled to make another Xfinity start until May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with six races between starts. Brad Keselowski also competed in Phoenix, but a Team Penske spokesperson said the team hasn’t solidified the remaining schedule for its No. 12 car.

The streak could continue next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

None of the current full-time Xfinity drivers have won there. Even though Earnhardt is slated to compete in the March 21 race, he hasn’t won there in five career starts.

What’s the next track the Xfinity Series will visit where one of its full-time drivers has already won?

The May 2 race at Dover International Speedway. Justin Allgaier won the spring 2018 race there.

Bump and Run: West Coast swing takeaways

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What are your takeaways from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports is back. Paul Wolfe and Joey Logano are a winning combination. Joe Gibbs Racing needs to regroup but isn’t out of the ballgame by any stretch.

Dustin Long: How Goodyear’s ability to bring a tire that wears more is changing the game. Hendrick Motorsports’ performance. The speed of Martin Truex Jr.’s car and how he’ll be a factor once he avoids the various issues that plagued him. Harrison Burton’s performance in Xfinity, which included a win and three top fives during this swing.

Daniel McFadin: Despite Ford and Joey Logano winning two of the three races, it doesn’t feel like any team or manufacturer has an outright advantage over everyone else. The races at Phoenix and Auto Club had a distinct energy to them that they’ve lacked in general over the years. The season has a some momentum behind it, let’s hope it stays on track in Atlanta.

Jerry Bonkowski: First, we’re seeing Chevrolet teams starting to shake off the struggles of the new Camaro at Daytona and Las Vegas and are coming back to prominence quickly if Fontana and Phoenix are any indication. Second, Ford continues to show its mastery over Toyota and Chevy. This could be a huge season for Fords if the current trend continues. Lastly, Toyota is uncharacteristically struggling with little consistency between teams (other than perhaps Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin). 

 

Who scores their first career Cup win next: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer or someone else?

Nate Ryan: William Byron.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto. He will give the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup victory.

Daniel McFadin: William Byron. While DiBenedetto is the most experienced in Cup of the group, Byron has more time in quality equipment, from the Truck Series up through Cup. DiBenedetto hasn’t shown us a complete race in the No. 21 yet as he re-calibrates his talent and knowledge to what he has to work with.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question because all of the drivers listed have the ability, they just need some luck. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be Tyler Reddick. Even though he had a disappointing outing at Phoenix, he still has been the best-performing rookie in Cup this season and has even outshined his veteran teammate, Austin Dillon, at times. 

Do you think anyone will beat Kyle Busch to collect any of the bounties in the Truck Series this weekend at Atlanta?

Nate Ryan: No. Kyle Busch knows best when he says Kyle Larson is his main threat at Homestead-Miami Speedway a week later.

Dustin Long: No. Kyle Busch wins this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: My heart says yes, but my gut says no. Chase Elliott will be the primary challenger, but this will be his first Truck Series start since 2017. Meanwhile, Busch has won in five of his 11 Truck Series starts at Atlanta since 2005. Regardless, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Truck Series race not held on dirt or a road course since … let me get back to you on that.

Jerry Bonkowski: Unless Busch wrecks or suffers mechanical problems, I don’t believe anyone takes the bounty in Atlanta. Rather, I believe Kyle Larson has the best chance to do so the following week in Miami.