March 29 in NASCAR history: Dale Earnhardt snags Darlington win from Bill Elliott

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On March 29, 1987, Bill Elliott tried to win at Darlington Raceway by going the final 72 laps on one tank of gas.

That didn’t work out.

Instead, Elliott ran out of gas on the final lap and had to watch the No. 3 of Dale Earnhardt zoom by on his outside in Turn 4 and take the checkered flag.

“When it ran out, I just pulled down out of the way,” Elliott said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” “I sure wasn’t going to push him into the wall. I don’t drive that way.”

Earnhardt, who led 239 of 367 laps, stopped for fuel with 11 laps to go.

Then, as he chased Elliott, he smacked the wall in Turn 2 with four laps to go.

“I knocked the hell out of the wall, but I still wound up winning. That’s tough to do,” Earnhardt said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing.”

The win was Earnhardt’s third Darlington victory in four races.

Also on this date:

1959: Junior Johnson won a 100-mile race at Wilson (N.C) Speedway. He did it in front an audience who didn’t have a place to sit. According to “NASCAR: The Complete History,” the grandstands caught fire and burned to the ground less than an hour before the race began.

1992: While the above mentioned race from 1987 started a four-race win streak for Earnhardt, the 1992 TranSouth 400 at Darlington represented the opposite for Elliott. The win followed victories at Rockingham, Richmond and Atlanta. Even despite four wins in the first five races of the season, Elliott was second in the points to Davey Allison, who won the Daytona 500 and finished fourth or better in the next four races.

1997: After leading the final 22 laps, Dick Trickle defeated defending champion Randy LaJoie at Hickory Motor Speedway to earn his first Xfinity Series win and his first national NASCAR series win. Trickle was 56 at the time of the victory. In 461 starts across Cup and Xfinity, he only earned two wins, both in Xfinity.

1998: Jeff Gordon won the spring race at Bristol for the fourth consecutive year.

2010: In a green-white-checkered finish, Denny Hamlin goes from fourth to the lead to claim a win at Martinsville.

2019: Kyle Busch won the Truck Series race at Texas to complete a sweep of his first four Truck Series starts of the year. He’d win his fifth and final start in May at Charlotte.

 

Today’s iRacing Cup race at virtual Texas: Start time and more

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Round two of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series takes place today with competitors racing at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin won last weekend’s race at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap. The viewership of the race on FS1 set a record for an eSports event on TV.

More than 30 current and former Cup drivers are scheduled to take part in today’s race.

Here is the information on today’s virtual race:

(All times are Eastern)

DIGNITARIES: Troy Aikman will serve as the grand marshal. Bob Weir, founding member of the Grateful Dead, will perform the National Anthem.

PRERACE: Practice begins at noon. Qualifying begins at 12:50 p.m. Warmup begins at 12:54 p.m.

GREEN FLAG: Scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 is 125 laps (187.5 miles) around the virtual 1.5-mile oval.

TV/RADIO: FOX and FS1 will televise the virtual race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. The race also can be seen on the Fox Sports App.

RULES: Since it is an exhibition race, drivers will get one full repair in case they are involved in any incidents. It is fixed setups on all the cars.

CUP DRIVERS SCHEDULED TO COMPETE: Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase  Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Garrett Smithley, Timmy Hill, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and Daniel Suarez.

ALSO RACING: Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Parker Kligerman and Landon Cassill.

STARTING LINEUP: Lineup will be set after last chance race for Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers. That race will take place at 11:02 a.m and be streamed online.

WHAT DRIVERS ARE SAYING: 

CLINT BOWYER: “For me, iRacing gives me a chance to drive something I’ve always wanted to drive, but never had the chance. That’s why I love iRacing, and I love the fact that this Pro Invitational Series has made more people aware of iRacing. Now, that means more eyeballs on us this Sunday, so I need to step up my game and put my Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang up front.”

KYLE BUSCH: “It was quite interesting last week. Ty Gibbs offered me up his rig because I did not have one and I was over at his place last weekend running on his rig. I made some phone calls this week to see who had one since I’m hoping after maybe six weeks we can get back to the racetrack and do what we do each week and I won’t really need to have one. So I’m going on the borrowed train right now for my rig.”

AUSTIN DILLON: “I learned a lot at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. We were able to get up to the top 10 for a little while but it was a messy race for us. I’ve been practicing a lot for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and the setup seems better this week. I’m also looking forward to a bit of drafting this week. I hope these eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races tide us over until we get to the real racetrack, because this is fun but I’m looking forward to get back to real racing!”

ERIK JONES: “I honestly did not know how I’d do in last week’s race at Homestead. It had been forever since I last went iRacing, so it was like I was a rookie all over again. But things came to me fairly quickly, although I’m still nowhere near where I want to be. Performance aside, I think we all came away from that race impressed with how the entire industry rallied around it, and fans seemed to like it too. Now we’re on big FOX this Sunday, so even more people will be watching. Obviously, that’s good, but it does kind of ramp up the pressure. You want to do well. Even though it’s a simulation, we’re all competitors and we want to win. And it’s appropriate that I’ve got CRAFTSMAN on my Toyota Camry this Sunday at Texas. I moved into a new house this week and between putting furniture together, hanging stuff up and even fixing a few things that broke, if I wasn’t carrying a box I was carrying a screwdriver or a wrench. iRacing practice time took a backseat to the move, so I hope my limited practice time doesn’t show up in the race.”

MICHAEL McDOWELL: “Now that drivers have had some time to get comfortable with making the switch from racing in person to racing in a virtual realm, I can imagine that we will see a lot of hard racing this weekend that is hopefully entertaining for the fans tuning in. My Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang is ready to go and I’m excited to be back racing for the second consecutive Sunday. I would also like to thank all of the guys at the shop for working so hard this week to build me a custom simulator to race on. With the overwhelming responses from drivers that are eager to be part of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, most of the simulators in and around the Charlotte, North Carolina area have been either rented out or purchased, leaving me with limited options to be able to compete in the series. Thankfully, my guys were able to put one together for me, so hopefully I can make them proud this weekend.”

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK: “Honestly, it doesn’t matter that we’re not physically racing in person; as a driver, you just want to get out there and turn laps. We’re still a very competitive group by nature and we all want to put on a great show for everyone watching.”

TYLER REDDICK: “The virtual track races identical to what Texas Motor Speedway was before the traction compound was introduced, and creates those crazy runs into Turn 1 with the current Cup package. Figuring out how to manage the front tires and keep someone from getting inside going into Turn 1 will be key for this virtual race.”

DANIEL SUAREZ: “I don’t even know what to expect, to be honest. Obviously, I think we’re going to have some fun, but at the same time I’m very competitive and I want to do well. I’ve never done iRacing before, I’ve never had an account before and I really didn’t know much about iRacing. I had an old GT25 simulator that I bought used about 10 years ago to race on the PlayStation. As for iRacing, I have no experience before, but for me, that’s not an excuse. I’ve done a lot on other simulators, like the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) simulator, that might help some. But this is way different, it’s its own animal. iRacing is still very realistic and does an amazing job, but it’s still a game. The simulator we use at TRD, that’s not a game, but a lot of things about what iRacing does is very impressive. I borrowed a rig from Toyota and hopefully I can use it for as many races as I need to.”

 

eNASCAR race draws record TV audience for eSports event

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Last weekend’s inaugural eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event drew the largest TV audience for an eSports event.

The race, won by Denny Hamlin at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway, attracted 903,000 viewers on FS1, according to Nielsen Sports. The race topped the previous record of 770,000 viewers for a Mortal Kombat event on the CW Network in 2016, said Manny Anekal, founder of The Next Level, a publication that covers the business of eSports.

The eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series will continue with drivers competing on a virtual Texas Motor Speedway at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Tim Clark, NASCAR senior vice president and chief digital officer, told NBC Sports that the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series plans to follow the schedule for where the series was to have raced that weekend. That means upcoming races at a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway. NASCAR has postponed all its races through May 3 at Dover because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clark said that there have been preliminary discussions about what to do Easter weekend since NASCAR does not have any races scheduled that weekend.

The viewership for last weekend’s virtual race compares to a broadcast of an actual Xfinity race. The Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway earlier this month drew 993,000 viewers on FS1.

Of course, these are extraordinary times with stay-at-home orders being issued in many states in hopes of combating the spread of COVID-19.

What stood out to eSports experts about the viewership of last weekend’s iRacing event was that it was numbers not seen from motorsports games even when streamed.

“Racing games have not had that buy in from the eSports community so this is really a big deal,” said Gabriela Richard, assistant professor of education at Penn State University and faculty advisor to the school’s eSports club.

Anekal was among those who viewed last weekend’s race.

“It was interesting,” he said. “It was fun to watch because you had real world drivers, which makes it more exciting. Because of that, I think it was just really exciting to watch. To be frank, in terms of graphics, there were times where you couldn’t tell … am I watching a race or am I watching a video game?”

Clark said that there was some consideration to running such a race the previous weekend after the races at Atlanta Motor Speedway were postponed but “we ultimately decided that was probably too aggressive, we didn’t feel confident enough in doing that.”

While pleased with the viewership after one weekend, Clark said there are some ideas being examined for this weekend’s race.

“We’ve done some outreach to drivers … and wanted to get their feedback on what we could do better and how we can help improve the broadcast as well,” Clark said.

What might fans see more of this weekend?

Clark noted more views of drivers during the event and audio communication.

He noted that some drivers provided that last weekend when they streamed themselves racing on Twitch.

“That’s a really good opportunity where you kind of create a little bit of something for everyone and where you can certainly tune into the broadcast to see everything, but you can also tune into some of those channels like Twitch that gives you an opportunity to maybe reach an audience that maybe isn’t watching on television,” he said.

As for the racing, Steve Myers, executive vice president and executive producer at iRacing, anticipates it will be better.

“People don’t realize how we threw a lot of those guys directly into the fire with this because some of them just haven’t been using the software or have never used the software,” Myers told NBC Sports. “So to ask some of these guys to get up to be confident in driving a virtual stock car and in Jimmie Johnson’s case, an hour, he got an hour of practice before that race. I think that’s going to be the way it continues to improve the product.

“We had 10 or 11 cautions in that race. My goal for this next one would be to get that down to five or six. I think from that aspect, it’s going to be even more entertaining than it was last week.

“That last 10 laps of that race, watching (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) get past (Garrett) Smithley and Timmy Hill, and Denny Hamlin doing the same thing and getting past Dale on the last lap, the last corner, if we can recapture the excitement of those 10 laps over 100 laps or 125 laps, I think that by itself is just going to create a more entertaining product. The more that people see it and more that people buy into the fact of, ‘Hey I’m going to suspend belief for two hours and just enjoy watching racing,’ I think from that aspect it will grow.”

NASCAR’s Pro Invitational iRacing Series continues Sunday

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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The eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series will continue Sunday with drivers racing at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

The race will be at 1 p.m. ET and will be simulcast on the FOX broadcast network, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. Races will be available in Canada through FOX Sports Racing.

Denny Hamlin won last weekend’s inaugural event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap to win. Timmy Hill was third, Chase Briscoe fourth and Garrett Smithley was fifth after starting on the pole. Fox Sports confirmed that last weekend’s race on FS1 drew 903,000 viewers.

 

 

Amid iRacing spotlight, Timmy Hill ‘can’t stop’ working on real race team

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Exactly one year ago today, Timmy Hill debuted his own Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series team at Martinsville Speedway.

After competing in NASCAR at a national level since the day after he turned 18 in 2011, the Maryland native sought a little more “certainty” and  “exposure” for a career that’s been defined by racing underfunded equipment.

“Being a NASCAR owner was never a big dream of mine to do,” Hill told NBC Sports on Monday. “I just wanted to be a driver, I want to be the man who drives the cars. But this sport, there’s no certainty, at least for me and my career, there hasn’t been. I’ve been fortunate enough to where I’ve driven for other family teams.”

Added Hill: “This is a better way to control your own destiny by just doing it yourself.”

One year after his No. 56 Chevrolet finished 21st at Martinsville, Hill’s getting the most exposure of his career following a race.

But nobody could have predicted it would come as a result of a nationally televised iRacing event.

On Monday, the 27-year-old driver was scheduled for seven interviews with at least three more awaiting on Tuesday. All because he finished third in Sunday’s NASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series exhibition race, essentially the only brand new sporting event in the last week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Held on a digital Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hill, who has been competing on iRacing for just over a decade, took on NASCAR All-Stars Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and others.

While some of the more well known drivers participated via expensive and fancy iRacing “rigs,” Hill’s setup reflected how he’s competed against powerhouse teams in the real world.

He sat at a desk he estimates he bought for $75 on Black Friday one year, the same desk he does his team’s business at. and uses a steering wheel he bought 12 years ago for $300.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. races Timmy Hill (66) during the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 100-lap race started sloppy with multiple wrecks before it calmed down for a long green-flag run at the end, which saw Hamlin win over Earnhardt, Hill, Chase Briscoe and Garrett Smithley.

“I think some of these guys took for granted how much work and effort you still have put in to be competitive,” Hill said. “I could tell you just from watching (practice) what these guys would do … Bobby Labonte, I saw he ran several hundred laps of practice just in one day. Denny and different ones, they took it seriously and I really appreciate that, because I think the guys who did take it seriously, it really showed and they put on a good race.

“The guys who didn’t take it seriously, took it for granted and thought it would be easy. I think they were kind of surprised and shocked and taken off guard … You could see the different levels of experience in yesterday’s race … I think going forward to next weekend’s race, I think these guys will probably be practicing quite a bit more.”

This wasn’t the first time this year Hill has finished in the top five of a major racing event.

In February, Hill placed third in the Xfinity Series season-opener at Daytona, earning his second top five across 317 NASCAR national series starts.

“I think it’s (Daytona) probably my favorite weekend I’ve ever had in racing,” said Hill, who also qualified for his first Daytona 500. But even with the “big hype” around that weekend, Hill said “I’ve gotten more media requests, interview requests from (Sunday’s) race than for anything else I’ve ever done.

“It’s very new. With everything that’s new, everybody would love to know more about it.”

The invitational series will continue this weekend on a digital Texas Motor Speedway, but on Monday Hill was hard at work prepping his Truck Series team for a return to the real track.

Hill, who lives in High Point, North Carolina, drove roughly 60 miles to Mooresville to get parts for his trucks, which he hopes he’ll get to run in 10 races this season while the truck is fielded full-time.

Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill’s gotten the exposure he was seeking in creating the team, but like the rest of the sport, there’s not much certainty about what comes next.

With him is his lone employee, crew chief Greg Ely.

“We can’t stop,” Hill said. “Between him and I, everything that you see that comes to the race track … it’s just done between he and I. I don’t think most people realize that. I’m very hands on … Even though we’re not racing we’re preparing for what could be a very busy summer depending on how things shake out. When that gets here it’s going to be very busy for us, it’s going to be very tough to do.

“So we’re trying to get as far ahead as possible. We basically have two mile-and-a-half trucks done, ready to go. Got one short track truck that’s done and ready to go. I don’t know what our next race is going to be, what style of race track, we haven’t heard yet. We don’t have time to figure that out once the season gets here, we have to be prepared as possible now to be able to be ready to go.”