The brand-new NASCAR Next Gen cars were dropped in the real world at 3:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and race fans won’t have to wait long to see what they look like in a race setting.
That being a virtual race setting.
The eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series returns for its third race on the 2021 season. The NASCAR Cup Series stars will go to battle in the brand new cars on the iRacing platform at the virtually renovated (but to look older) Darlington Raceway.
With Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend happening this upcoming weekend, Wednesday night offers a glimpse into the future of the real sport through virtual glasses. Many teams will be participating with the same throwback schemes they’ll have on Sunday, but they’ve been converted to the new layout on the Next Gen bodies.
BAD BRAD LOOKING TO GO 2 FOR 2
The last time out was just two weeks ago at the virtual Talladega Superspeedway. Brad Keselowski won that event in a thrilling battle against James Davison and Christopher Bell in the closing laps. So far in two races this season, Keselowski and William Byron have been the only two drivers to visit virtual victory lane.
Keselowski only ran the second race of the season as he was subbed in by Timmy Hill in the first event at the Bristol Dirt Race. If Keselowski could find himself in the winner’s circle once again, he’d maintain his virtually perfect record so far on the simulated season.
Hill and Byron have been the standouts of the series since its inception in 2021. The two have won five of the nine races in series history. In the seven races last season, Hill scored the most “points” even though points weren’t officially scored. Hill used to compete in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, and Byron is always brought up in conversations as having come up from iRacing, so it’s not a big surprise that those two are always threats to win.
Darlington will be the tenth race in the series and third on the season. The previous nine races featured four short ovals, three intermediates, and two superspeedways. This will be the fourth intermediate oval race and first trip to the virtual Darlington. Denny Hamlin, Hill, and Byron have all won at the virtual intermediates.
Statistically speaking in real life, last season was the first time in NASCAR history that the facility held three points paying racing on one schedule. Kevin Harvick collected two of those trophies and Hamlin took the other.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the schedule was changed in a way where the season could get all 36 races, and part of that meant double headers at tracks like Darlington as well as Charlotte, as they were the closest facilities to most of the North Carolina based race shops.
FIRST LOOK AT NEXT GEN
The Next Gen cars are set to hit the pavement for the first time in an official setting in 2022, but in conjunction with iRacing, NASCAR is ready to show off their new babies virtually during the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series. It’s not the first what-if scenario that the NASCAR and iRacing partnership has created, and it certainly doesn’t seem like it will be the last.
Last year, North Wilkesboro Speedway was brought back to life on the platform through the Pro Invitational. Later in the year, the NASCAR version of the Daytona Road Course was tested first via iRacing before its real-life implementation. With the Bristol Dirt Race earlier this year following the same pattern, and the future possible NASCAR tracks at Auto Club Speedway and on the streets of Chicago, the possibilities continue to expand and are seemingly endless.
The car itself is a big change from past implementations of the NASCAR Cup Series racecar. On the interior, a five-speed sequential gearbox is featured for the first time in a NASCAR stock car. The exterior shaping makes these cars look more like a showroom model, including updates to the tire size and how they are fastened to the car.
The NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota are not currently available on iRacing to own publicly, and at the time of this post, it’s unknown if these cars will be ready to drive or own by Season 3 in June. When we found out, we’ll let you know!
Catch the virtual action on FOX Sports 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Prerace coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. ET.