It was a race that never really happened, even though it did. But boy did we need it.
NASCAR and IRacing staged a virtual race on a computerized representation of the racetrack that NASCAR would have raced on had the COVID-19 virus not kept fans, and competitors away. In some ways it was a beautiful disaster filled with real NASCAR drivers trying to adapt to a virtual world.
And what a beautiful disaster it was.
The eNASCAR Pro Invitational Dixie Vodka 150 at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway was the only real “live” sports that could be found on television anywhere in America. Fox Sports carried the broadcast live in real time, a first for the eNASCAR series, one that is normally filled with professional and semi-professional drivers who race only virtually and a series that awards points and cash money.
The race was quickly the number one trending sports story on Twitter after it started. It was filled with 35 fulltime Cup, Xfinity and Truck series drivers along with retired drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bobby Labonte. The race was won by Denny Hamlin after a furious and exciting last few laps between him, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Timmy Hill.
But who won wasn’t the point.
In a week filled with all the news of the coronavirus and dire predictions, lockdowns and quarantines, Sunday was a chance to step away and watch the sport we all love. This virtual escape from reality gave us all a chance to forget the dire real-world news, relax for a bit and realize that it won’t be very long until we can gather together again and hear those most famous words in motorsports, in person.
Until then we may have more chances to escape on Sundays, even if its virtually.
“I think that it certainly keeps our sport relevant if we can keep it going,” Sunday’s winner Denny Hamlin said. “I think that it’s going to ‑‑ a lot of that’s going to fall on the shoulders of the drivers. I think as long as you have drivers willing to participate, you’re going to have a product that people are going to want to see. So I think that if you got that first step, then most likely you can keep this thing going because ultimately people out there, the fans, want to see their favorite driver, and they don’t care if they’re racing virtually or in the real world, they want to see their favorite driver win.”
“I think it keeps people excited about our sport, and hopefully we can keep it.”