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iRacing can be a temporary substitute for NASCAR, but the viewing experience needs work

Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

Drivers never entered their cars Sunday, but the virtual race at Atlanta Motor Speedway still allowed the NASCAR community to get their racing fix for the weekend. Former and current Cup Series drivers -- including Dale Earnhardt Jr., William Byron, Alex Bowman and Bubba Wallace -- participated in a 37-driver field on the 1.5 mile-track, replicating the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 scheduled to take place this weekend.

The race came after NASCAR decided Friday to postpone all races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway to help prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

Esports swooped in to salvage race weekend with the Replacements 100. Here are some takeaways from the iRacing event:

WHAT'S IT LIKE? HOW DOES IT WORK?

The look and feel of the virtual race was similar to any broadcast you'd watch on television. The race was streamed on Twitch.tv (as opposed to NASCAR's cable broadcast affiliate FOX Sports). The audience was much smaller than is typical for a prime-time Cup Series race (last week's Cup race in Phoenix drew 4.6 million viewers on FOX Sports), but it still drew a sizable audience. The stream peaked at nearly 30,000 viewers roughly 15 minutes after its start. By the end of the race, that number had dropped to an audience of nearly 23,000 viewers.

Similar to the QuickTrip 500, the field ran with 37 drivers entered on a 1.5-mile track (100 laps). Qualifying took place prior to the start of the race. Drivers ran two qualifying laps in the same 10 minute block and were able to choose when they ran (i.e., they could wait to see the qualifying times others clocked).

 

HOW'S THE STREAMING QUALITY?

The steaming and commentating was high-quality, but the technical side is not perfect and a lot can depend on the PC a given driver is using. For example, former Cup Series driver Parker Kligerman was running in the top five, but he crashed out shortly before the halfway point due to an equipment malfunction. Kligerman ran into the outside wall due to no apparent contact from another racer. The crash looked like it resulted from a blown front tire in a real race, but in reality, there was an issue with his system.

Drivers were each allowed one "reset" for the race, so they were able to continue with a new virtual car if they wrecked out, as Earnhardt Jr. did early on. Normally, if they crash out, the field dies off. Kligerman finished in fifth place.

DO YOU HAVE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL NASCAR DRIVER TO BE GOOD AT IRACING?

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