• Race: GEICO 70 (Round 5)
• Series: eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series
• Time/Date: 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 26
• Location: Virtual Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile oval)
• Distance: 70 laps (186.2 miles)
Where to Watch:
• FOX network
• Announcers: Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds, with in-race commentary from Clint Bowyer.
• FS1 (DIRECTV Channel 219 and Dish Channel 150)
• FOX Sports Racing for fans in Canada
• We Need a Bigger Podium: Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race from virtual Richmond Raceway had 971,000 viewers tune in to the simulcast on FOX and FS1, making it the third-most watched esports event in U.S. television history. The March 29 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race from virtual Texas Motor Speedway remains on the podium’s top step with 1.34 million viewers. The April 5 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race from virtual Bristol Motor Speedway takes the second step with 1.179 million viewers. The first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race March 22 at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway earned 903,000 viewers on FS1 alone. And while the Texas race dwarfed that number by 47 percent, the Homestead race was, for at least one week, the most watched esports event in U.S. television history, having bested the previous record of 770,000 viewers when Mortal Kombat aired on The CW in 2016.
• iRacing’s Real-World Context: Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race from Richmond was the second-most watched sports event of the weekend. The most-watched sports event? Michael Jordan ‘The Last Dance’ documentary on ESPN.
• New Viewers Assimilate to Sim Racing: According to Nielsen, one million unique viewers who did not watch any of the four real-life NASCAR Cup Series races prior to the sports industry’s necessary hiatus to combat the spread of the coronavirus did tune in to one of the four eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races held thus far.
• Kind of a Big Deal: A total of 5.4 million unique viewers have watched at least one eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race via FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
• Bet On It: The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series has been cleared and approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for wagering. Two types of bets are allowed for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series: winner of the race and head-to-head winner between drivers. Provisions for licensing the event includes a posting of the official rules for the tournament organizer and that all bets must cease once a race has started. Additionally, each bookmaker is allowed to create its own odds.
• The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is an exhibition esports series featuring a collection of past and present racecar drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series.
• The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is a multi-week series emulating the original 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
• With the sports world on hiatus due to the coronavirus, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series exists in place of actual NASCAR events.
• The iRacing undercard event the day prior to Sunday’s headlining eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race is the Saturday Night Thunder race where 40 drivers will compete in virtual NASCAR Xfinity Series cars. The Thunder event complements the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series driver, Chase Briscoe, will compete in Saturday Night Thunder.
• The livestream of Saturday Night Thunder begins at 8 p.m. EDT on eNASCAR.com/live. Single-car qualifying begins at 8:05 p.m., which sets the lineup for two, 10-lap heat races. Twenty car cars will advance from each heat to compete in the 57-lap feature (151.62 miles).
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Flannel Ford Mustang:
“The whole iRacing process is sort of overwhelming for me. I finally just said, ‘The heck with it. I’m going to go race.’ And it’s just like racing anything else – if you don’t go race, you just get further behind, because everyone is getting better. So, I decided to dive in at Richmond. I actually qualified in the middle of the pack and was running fine, but you’ve got your spotter in one ear, and you’ve also got the engine noise from the car. Plus, I was on Skype because the team was broadcasting on Twitch. So, I’ve got my laptop on my left, my iPad on my right, and my phone on the floor, and I’ve got all this stuff going on in my ear. I’m at the point in my iRacing career where if something flashes on the screen or something is in my ear, it distracts me because I have to be so focused on what I’m doing because I don’t really know what I’m doing. So, I’m running along there and have passed a couple of cars and all of a sudden we’re having trouble with the laptop with FOX connecting. Before the race, I sent them my other Skype account and said use this one because it’s on my iPad. Then in the race, I hit the car on the left side of me, and then I hit the guy on the right side of me and I brake checked the guy behind me. Well, it was because my iPad rings into my headset, so I don’t hear the engine noise, my spotter, nothing, because it’s that crazy Skype ring. I jerk the wheel to the right and to the left. I’m reaching over trying to shut the iPad off. I’m trying to hit end, but the facial recognition says use your passcode. So, I’m trying to reach over to grab the iPad and, meanwhile, I’m hitting everyone who is around me. From that point, it kind of spiraled out of control. But I still had fun. I was way more competitive than I thought I would be. I’ve learned a lot, too. I feel like I’m going to do a little bit better as we get to Talladega with our Busch Flannel Ford Mustang. The short tracks are hard. I should have started at Texas, because I was fine in practice at Texas. If it wasn’t for Ryan Preece, I wouldn’t even be close. He was kind enough to help me on a daily basis.”
• This is Harvick’s second eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race.
• Harvick started 17th and finished 29th in the previous eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Richmond.
• In actual NASCAR Cup Series racing at Talladega, Harvick has one win, seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes with 260 laps led in 38 career starts.
• Harvick’s Talladega victory came in April 2010.
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang:
“Well, I’ve won at Talladega before, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right? In all seriousness, I’ve seen these veteran drivers and champions of the sport practice for hours and still struggle to finish the race, so the expectation for myself is low. It’ll be interesting to make my Pro Invitational debut at Talladega where we’ll just have to survive. Who knows, maybe I’ll be one of the last guys standing and have a shot at it. Whether we wreck on the first lap or have a decent day, this is just a lot of fun for race fans, my fans, and to get back on track – even a virtual track – with Smithfield on our Ford Mustang.”
• This is Almirola’s first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race.
• In actual NASCAR Cup Series racing at Talladega, Almirola has one win, four top-five and eight top-10 finishes with 46 laps led in 20 career starts.
• Almirola’s Talladega victory came in October 2018.
Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Barstool Sports Ford Mustang:
“I finished last Sunday at Richmond, so I can only get better this week at Talladega. We have to do better, especially since we’ve got Barstool Sports on the car and Dave Portnoy (Barstool Sports founder) will never let me hear the end of it if we don’t. Did I mention that I finished last? These races are fun, but the competition is tough. You have to give credit where credit is due, because the guys having success are the ones that are always on iRacing putting in the time. You go to these practice races during the week and you see guys like William Byron logging the laps and putting in the practice time. That shows up during the race. These guys are really good at what they do, so it’s hard for us to come in and compete with them. That’s OK, though. This is just a fun way to get together on a Sunday afternoon. I’m enjoying the heck out of all this but, truthfully, I can’t wait to get back to real racing.”
• Bowyer has competed in all four eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races. His best finish is 11th, earned twice (March 29 at Texas and April 5 at Bristol).
• Bowyer started 30th and finished 30th in the previous eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Richmond.
• Bowyer’s eponymous iRacing team competes in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series with drivers Brandon Kettelle and Brian Schoenberg, and Bowyer’s dirt late model team has been sponsored by iRacing for several years.
• In actual NASCAR Cup Series racing at Talladega, Bowyer has two wins, seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes with 123 laps led in 28 career starts.
• Bowyer’s Talladega victories came in October 2010 and October 2011.
Cole Custer, driver of the No. 41 Autodesk Fusion 360/Haas Automation Ford Mustang:
“Going into Talladega, I’m hoping we can just get to the end of the race. I’m expecting that we’ll have a few big ones. Hopefully, we can stay out of them and get our Autodesk Fusion 360/Haas Automation Ford Mustang to the end. I haven’t done much drafting on iRacing, but I think the hardest thing will just be getting a feel for how hard you’re pushing someone because you won’t have the actual feel of hitting someone. But it will definitely help having all of my teammates in the race, especially because it’s a superspeedway where you can push each other. We haven’t talked too much about a strategy yet but, overall, the biggest thing you try and do with your teammates is just not leave each other out, and you try and push each other whenever you can.”
• Stewart-Haas eSports utilizes Autodesk 3ds Max software to create digital 3-D renderings of each of its virtual Ford Mustangs. The team’s graphic designers transfer their layouts into the program, wrapping the scheme onto the car. The team then creates a custom render scene in Autodesk 3ds Max that utilizes a floor and lighting effects, inducing the necessary reflective glare and shadows to provide a real-world look and feel to each design. Autodesk 3ds Max software allows users to render each car with any elements they desire, providing design freedom for any and all digital platforms.
• This is Custer’s first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race.
• Custer made his iRacing debut last Saturday in the Saturday Night Thunder race at Richmond. He started 11th and finished 18th.
• In actual racing, Custer has made a total of three Xfinity Series starts at Talladega with a best finish of ninth (April 2018). He is a NASCAR Cup Series rookie and has yet to make a Cup Series start at Talladega.
Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 98 Ford Performance Racing School/HighPoint.com Ford Mustang:
“I really don’t know what to expect in this weekend’s iRacing event at Talladega. I think the race will live up to the ‘anything can happen’ expectation that we all have when we go there normally. It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out. Hopefully, I don’t get caught up in too big of a mess and I’ll be able to bring home a decent finish for Ford Performance Racing School and HighPoint.com.”
• This is Briscoe’s second Saturday Night Thunder race. He started seventh and finished 22nd in last Saturday’s race at Richmond.
• Briscoe is an iRacing regular, with most of his races coming in the Xfinity Series.
• In actual racing, Briscoe has never competed in the NASCAR Cup Series. He is currently in his second full season of Xfinity Series racing.
• Briscoe has made a total of four starts at Talladega – two in the Xfinity Series (best finish is fourth in April 2019), one in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series (finished 22nd in October 2017) and one in the ARCA Series (finished third in April 2016).