Hamlin wins successful eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational at Homestead

Photo by Justin Mellilo / The Racing Experts / iRacing

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin continued his list of accomplishments with a win in the inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series driver and three-time Daytona 500 winner battled NASCAR on NBC’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final laps of the Dixie Vodka 150. Fresh tires on Hamlin’s virtual No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry gave him the edge on Earnhardt, Timmy Hill, and Garrett Smithley.

While both Earnhardt and Hamlin are regular front runners in the real world, Hill and Smithley are not. The latter compete for underfunded teams and are competitive from time to time. However, with an even playing field on iRacing, both Hill and Smithley shined on the motorsports simulation platform.

The underdog duo were among the favorites throughout the Dixie Vodka 150. Both Hill and Smithley are two of the most experienced Cup Series drivers on iRacing. Hill has over 1,600 starts and 673 wins on iRacing while Smithley has over 1,200 starts and 146 wins.

Hamlin thought it was good for there to be different names up front, but credited their experience with iRacing:

“I think it’s great for those guys who normally you would not see up front. I thought for sure they were one of the top five favorites going in; along with William Byron, myself, and Dale Jr. was really fast through the week. So, I think that the guys who you expected to be up front, they were up front, and it’s who you had to beat for the win.

“It’s great that those guys were able to participate, and not only participate but challenge for the win. Normally on a normal week, they’re thinking, well, how can I run 30th, right, so it’s just a different beast when everything is all up and out.”

The unique circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak forced NASCAR to postpone several weeks of competition. That opened the door for iRacing to be featured with the pros taking part. The different setting also presented different challenges for the drivers.

With a fixed, common set-up throughout the field, Hamlin put an emphasis on practice throughout the week. He partnered with his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers Keegan Leahy and Casey Kirwan to squeeze out as much time in qualifying runs as possible.

Hamlin believes that as the Pro Invitational Series continues, that other drivers will catch up to those that have experience:

“I certainly think it’s good, and like I say, I think that guys with experience are going to shine, especially early on in this type of racing. You wouldn’t believe how long, how many hours I spent trying to find four hundredths of a second for qualifying for the last week. I think that people that have experience and know all the tricks and know all the things you do to get speed out of the car, they’re going to shine right now for sure.”

The eNASCAR iRacing exhibition series will have another five events. The next will be at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway. Until then, the eNASCAR iRacing Road to Pro will be next on Tuesday night.

The Finish:

Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe, Garrett Smithley, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Preece, Ty Majeski, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Landon Cassill, Parker Kligerman, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Truex, Bobby Labonte, Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, John Hunter Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson, Anthony Alfredo, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Kurt Busch

Lead Changes: 11 among six drivers.

Lap Leaders: William Byron 1-15, Denny Hamlin 16-28, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 29-38, William Byron 39-50, Timmy Hill 51, William Byron 52, Timmy Hill 53-60, Chase Briscoe 61-67, Garrett Smithley 68-91, Timmy Hill 92-95, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 96-99, Denny Hamlin 100

Laps Led: William Byron 28, Garrett Smithley 24, Denny Hamlin 14, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 14, Timmy Hill 13, Chase Briscoe 7.

Cautions: Nine for 42 laps.

Margin of Victory: 0.152 seconds.

Average Speed: 104.326 mph.

One Comment

  1. Paul Jennings

    March 23, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Great article, Seth.

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