eNPIS: Brad Keselowski uses real skills to take virtual Talladega Trophy
The second race of the 2021 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series wrapped up on Wednesday night with Brad Keselowski crossing the virtual flagstand ahead of the rest of the field.
Keselowski made his way around James Davison on the final restart and then held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch for his first career Pro Invitational Series victory in only six starts.
“I really like this rules package (iRacing) has,” Keselowski said post-race on FOX Sports 1. “It’s kind of got the bubble push and you can really kind of control your own destiny and all of that stuff.”
Keselowski only led two laps in the entire 70-lap show, but it was the last two and most important one that put him into virtual victory lane.
Later in a video posted by FOX: NASCAR on Twitter, Keselowski compared the iRacing rules package to the NASCAR rules package from 2014 to 2019. “With this, you kind of had to earn your run, which I like that a lot. A lot more driver input into it.”
During that time period with those types of rules in the real world of NASCAR racing, Keselowski picked up four superspeedway victories between Talladega and Daytona, distinguishing himself as one of the top plate package racers before the switch from restrictor plates to tapered spacers.
Since then, Keselowski’s best superspeedway finish was a 10th place finish last year at Daytona.
In terms of official iRacing statistics, it’s Keselowski’s ninth career iRacing victory and his first official win since 2 February in 2009. Keselowski has had an iRacing account since May 2008, but since his full-time NASCAR career took off, he hasn’t touched the sim much since.
Keselowski’s sim racing history dates back to Dale Earnhardt Jr’s DMP league on NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, but it’s not what defines the story of his rise through the NASCAR ladder like it does for guys like William Byron or Josh Berry. Regardless, one of Keselowski’s first real breakthroughs came racing for Earnhardt Jr. in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2008.
The race itself on Wednesday night saw seven cautions for 21 laps. The field was able to make green flag pit stops at one point, which ultimately led to five lead changes among five drivers on the night.
NEW SUPERSPEEDWAY PHYSICS ON IRACING
As mentioned above, the new superspeedway physics on iRacing have changed the game as far as race strategy goes. Before the update just over a month ago, superspeedway racing in the NASCAR Cup Series cars was full of big pack racing, almost a sardine-can like feeling if you weren’t in first or trailing the pack in last.
Now, the update brings side draft, air bubbles, and more control into a driver’s hand. That’s objectively speaking from experience, of course, since that update definitely divided the community on whether it’s better or worse.
Anyway, for a long time on Wednesday night, James Davison controlled the field with his Rick Ware Racing teammate Garrett Smithley in tow. The pair led the field for over half of the race before pit stops went down. Even after the stops, Smithley was tucked up right behind Davison, allowing for the duo to be nearly unbeatable, but it was one of their other teammates, Joey Gase, who foiled their fun on lap 41.
As Gase was swallowed up by the pack that would eventually be the leaders after pits, he inadvertently side-drafted both Davison and Smithley. This allowed Keselowski to get a run and make an easy move into second place in that pack, setting up for the eventual finish to the race.
Even before the final restart, Keselowski started making moves on Davison for the top spot. He nearly pulled it off with 10 laps to go, but a pair of cautions back-to-back slowed his efforts only momentarily. With two to go on what would be the final restart, Keselowski pushed forward with help from William Byron and Christopher Bell to take the spot. Once Byron was moved out of line, Keselowski was easily able to defend the bubble over Bell and score the win.
FATHER VS SON ON THE VIRTUAL TRACK
One of the more controversial storylines entering the GEICO 70 was the inclusion of Keelan Harvick on the driver roster. With real drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Truck Series, and ARCA Series facing off against one another for a fan vote spot, a child was picked above them to race against 39 other top-level NASCAR drivers on National Television.
Keelan, the eight year old son of Kevin Harvick, was chosen as a FOX Sports guest for the second race of the virtual season. With iRacing giving the OK to compete (despite Keelan not meeting the minimum age requirement of 13 to compete on iRacing), it would be the first time and possibly the only time that the father/son pair would get to compete in NASCAR in an official setting, albeit iRacing.
As one could imagine, NASCAR fans on social media were split on whether to be excited about the second generation Harvick racing on Wednesday night, or to be upset that a kid got to race as opposed to real drivers looking to boost their racing portfolio and stock through the virtual event.
As much as it initially felt like a delegitimization of the series at first, it was also very neat to see the father/son duo with their sim rigs parked side-by-side, both hoping to out run the other. eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver Matt Bussa was tapped to be the crew chief for the younger Harvick, and for what it’s worth, the kid had a fairly respectable race.
The younger Harvick looked to have the upper hand during the first 25 laps. Unfortunately for Keelan, an incident involving Ross Chastain and Joey Gase collected his virtual Hunt Brothers Pizza machine and caused him to lose multiple laps. The virtual was unable to recover any laps and wound up finishing in 38th.
Daddy Harvick kept things pretty clean throughout the race. At one point, Kevin was involved in a caution with Austin Dillon, but he was able to recover at the end for a 13th place finish.
With Kevin Harvick at 45 years of age and his son being eight to ten years away from legitimately being able to wheel a NASCAR stock car, this could be their only chance to enjoy competing against one another on a level like this. Nothing is saying Keelan couldn’t be invited back for more races now that it’s already happened once, but it could end up being a once in a lifetime opportunity, so kudos to FOX Sports and iRacing for seeing that through.
THE VIRTUAL LADY IN BLACK ON DECK
The series will return on 5 May for the third race of the virtual season at Darlington Raceway. Last year, when NASCAR was able to return to the track for real racing, Darlington was home to two consecutive race dates which saw Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin in victory lane. NASCAR had to make up about two months worth of races that were missed due to Covid-19, and Darlington welcomed the series back into the swing of things.
As the NASCAR Cup Series is scheduled to race the real Lady in Black on 9 May, the Wednesday night virtual date will kick off the throwback weekend plans with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday night, NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday, and NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday.
FOX Sports will have two more Pro Invitational Series Race after Darlington, including Circuit of the Americas on 19 May and the fantasy Chicago Street Course on 2 June. After that, NBC will pick up coverage for the second half of the season.
GEICO 70 – TOP 10 FINISHERS
- 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske 70 LAPS
- 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing +0.106
- 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing +0.197
- 66 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports +0.332
- 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports +0.453
- 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports +0.460
- 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr JR Motorsports +0.547
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing +0.667
- 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing +3.083
- 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing +3.199
UNOFFICIAL PRO INVITATIONAL SERIES POINTS STANDINGS
- 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing 69 POINTS
- 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports 63
- 66 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports 62
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing 61
- 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 59
- 51 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing 56
- 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports 50
- 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports 50
- 77 Justin Haley Spire Motorsports 48
- 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports 45