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Sports are about connection and NASCAR delivered that with its virtual race

Alex Andrejev, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

Sunday's virtual NASCAR race at Homestead-Miami Speedway wasn't about the racing. (That part was pretty much a wreck-fest.)

The iRacing event was about the fact that Mike Joy's voice described the weather conditions and turnout before the race, even if both were simulated and Joy sat six feet away from his FOX NASCAR co-host Jeff Gordon. It was about the fact that the national anthem was sung, even if it was broadcast from a garage. And it was about the fact that Cup drivers were on the track, even if they sat in their home offices behind simulator rigs.

In short, the virtual race was about bringing some semblance of normalcy to a world that feels far from that in the wake of a global pandemic.

"Heavenly Father, be present now with people around the globe who need your healing touch," Motor Racing Outreach president Billy Mauldin said in his invocation.

"And for all of the health care workers, researchers and first-responders on the front line, protect them, renew their energy and sustain them, and give them wisdom," Mauldin's prayer continued.

There was recognition of the unavoidable reality that the coronavirus has forced upon the NASAR, sports and broader world, but for 1.5 hours on Sunday, racing fans could turn on their televisions or log onto their computers and feel connected through a live racing event.

 

Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final lap of the 100-lap NASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series exhibition race. Earnhardt Jr. finished in second place. He was followed by Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe and Garrett Smithley.

"That was unbelievable," Hamlin said after running virtual victory donuts. "I didn't think we were going to get back there. Especially with 10 (laps) to go, we were 13th or so and I kinda got bottled up there."

Hamlin took the top line in the final two laps to give him the advantage over MBM Motorsports driver Hill and Cup veteran Earnhardt Jr. It was a top-10 finishing order NASCAR fans wouldn't see in any other time or place.

As for the rest of the field and the early laps, the race was crash-heavy as Cup drivers less familiar with the iRacing setup got their feet wet on the simulator rigs.

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