Only hours after unveiling the NASCAR NEXT Gen in the real world, the virtual world got a glance at how the new cars would race against each other in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series on iRacing.
The brand-new Toyota TRD Camry, Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 took to the virtual Darlington Raceway on Wednesday night for the third race of the season, and it was Erik Jones taking the first victory for Team Chevy after 120 laps.
On the final restart following a massive pileup among the top drivers, Jones navigated his way through the damaged cars and saw himself in third with two laps to go. Jones swung low on Timmy Hill and Anthony Alfredo to take the top spot and held on for the victory.
“We were 11th there on that second to last restart and picked up a bunch of spots when they all crashed,” Jones said following the victory. “I could see they were pretty beat up, and I was like ‘man, I don’t know if they even got tires on,’ so yeah, that was awesome.
“Darlington has been a great place to me, so hopefully it’s a good omen and we can get this STP car in victory lane come this weekend.”
Jones has a knack for the egg-shaped oval. His last victory came at Darlington back in 2019, and on Tuesday he said that he’s always been a fan of the venue.
NASCAR NEXT GEN SKIRMISH
Dale Earnhardt Jr took the pole position for the first official virtual event in the new NASCAR Next Gen cars and led the field to the green flag on Wednesday night. The green didn’t last very long as in the first corner, Matt DiBenedetto got loose entering and stacked up the field behind him. In front of him, Denny Hamlin and Anthony Alfredo collided, and that set up Hamlin for a disappointing night.
The drivers were granted two fast repairs from iRacing, which would completely fix any damage sustained on an ensuing pit stop. Hamlin used all of his within the first 20 laps and was the first to retire of those that started. Ross Chastain wound up last, however, as he was not able to grid due to internet connection issues.
There were quite a number of incidents in the first half of the show. After three consecutive yellow flag periods, race control seemed to look the other way on incidents towards the back of the field and let the race play out green for a little bit.
Earnhardt Jr led the first 47 laps of the race, which was the most of any driver on the night, but on lap 48 he was passed by William Byron. Earnhardt Jr never got back to the lead and wound up finishing third.
The fight looked to be between Byron, Alfredo, Timmy Hill and Kyle Larson in the closing stages. On the second to last caution, Hill decided to stay out on old tires while Chase Briscoe opted to take two. The restart turned into a cluster as Briscoe lost control and wiped out a good portion of the front runners including Byron, Larson, and himself.
On the final restart, Hill led with old tires, James Davison restarted second with a hurt engine, Alfredo was third with no nose, and then there was Jones in fourth in the metaphorical catbird seat. Davison held up Jones and that allowed Alfredo to get alongside Hill almost immediately.
Eventually, Jones made his way around and clear into third, and on the penultimate trip around, Jones stuck a divebomb three-wide below the two leaders into the lead position. Hill was forced up into the wall, but Alfredo kept Jones honest. Jones had too much for Alfredo though and scored the victory.
BRAND NEW CONTENT ALREADY PUBLIC ON IRACING
What ended up as a complete surprise to iRacing subscribers, during the broadcast it was announced that the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars were available to purchase at that very moment.
It was speculated that the cars could come later in the year, either during Season 3 or 4, but with the hype surrounding the announcement and the confidence in the production of the virtual model, all three new cars are available now.
The cars are $11.95 each and the scheme sharing service Trading Paints already has the ability to host custom cars on it.
We won’t see the real thing until the Daytona 500 next year, but now that it’s fully released on iRacing, expect to see more content surrounding it in the near future.
NEXT RACE UP IS COTA
The next race on the schedule comes in two weeks’ time as the series virtually visits the Circuit of the Americas on 19th May. The NASCAR Cup Series heads to that facility, mostly known for its Formula 1 events, for the first time in series history.
It will also be the first time the Pro Invitational Series heads to a road course since its inception, and will be the first of two back-to-back as the FOX Sports portion of the schedule ends at the fantasy Chicago street course in June.
VIRTUAL DARLINGTON – TOP 10 FINISHERS
- 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports 120 LAPS
- 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports +0.268
- 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr JR Motorsports +0.429
- 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing +0.504
- 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports +0.720
- 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing +2.235
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing +2.530
- 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske +3.247
- 87 Jesse Iwuji NASCAR Fan Vote Winner +3.312
- 99 Daniel Suarez Trackhouse Racing Team +5.035
UNOFFICIAL PRO INVITATIONAL SERIES POINTS STANDINGS
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing 91 POINTS
- 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing 90
- 66 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports 88
- 51 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing 79
- 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing 76
- 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 73
- 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports 72
- 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske 69
- 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr JR Motorsports 64
- 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports 61
- Lead Changes: Five among four drivers
- Lap Leader(s): Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1-47, William Byron 48-55, Timmy Hill 56-84, William Byron 85-108, Timmy Hill 109-118, Erik Jones 119-120.
- Laps Led: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 47, Timmy Hill 39, William Byron 32, Erik Jones 2.
- Hard Charger: 9-Chase Elliott (+32)
- Caution Flags: Seven for 35 laps
- Margin of Victory: .268 seconds
- Time of Race: One hour, 25 minutes, 1.546 seconds
- Average Speed: 115.673 mph
- Pole Winner: 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., 28.232 seconds (174.185 mph)
- Fastest Lap: 5-Kyle Larson, Lap 29, 28.459 seconds (172.796 mph)