Hamlin wins throwback race at North Wilkesboro

Photo by Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts / iRacing

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

The final eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race ended with a bump and run by Denny Hamlin.

At the debut of iRacing’s 1987-era North Wilkesboro Speedway, Hamlin’s virtual No. 11 FedEx “Delivering Strength” Toyota Camry chased down Ross Chastain. Over the final laps, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver proved to have a handle of the historic track.

With nine laps to go, Hamlin put the bumper to Chastain. In his final outing as a substitute for Ryan Newman, Chastain slid up the track. After he regained control of the virtual No. 6 Ford Mustang, he was clipped yet again, this time by Timmy Hill.

That left Hill’s No. 66 RoofClaim.com “Harry Gant Skoal Bandit Tribute” Toyota Camry to run down Hamlin. With five laps to go, it appeared that the MBM Motorsports driver would catch Hamlin. However, Hill ran out of laps and settled for second, with Hamlin just ahead.

Hamlin explained his goal was to win important races, which included the debut of the virtual North Wilkesboro:

“We’ve had a thing over the last few years of winning very, very important races: The Daytona 500, the elimination race at Phoenix last year to get in the final four, then Daytona 500 this year, then the two virtual wins, the first one and the last one. Those are the two you probably want to win in those circumstances. Pretty awesome to be able to have success and be competitive and race for wins, whether it be in real life or virtual.”

Tyler Reddick finished third with Chastain fourth and Austin Dillon fifth. Garrett Smithley, Brennan Poole, Parker Kligerman, Kevin Harvick, and Landon Cassill completed the top-10.

Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon, the two drivers that competed in the final NASCAR Cup Series race at the real-life North Wilkesboro Speedway had up and down days. The two racers turned broadcasters started mid-pack. Both climbed through the field before getting collected in one of the various incidents. Gordon finished 18th with Labonte in 19th.

The track, which has been shuttered from both racing and testing since 2011 saw eight cautions. Kligerman was involved in several incidents that left him down on horsepower in the closing laps. Despite the damage, he still managed to climb into the top-10 in time for the checkered flag.

For the time being, this is the final eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event that will take place. Hamlin bookended the series by winning the first at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the final at North Wilkesboro. Hill won Texas Motor Speedway in dramatic fashion. William Byron dominated Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, and Richmond Raceway. Alex Bowman stole the show at Talladega Superspeedway.

Each week, more regular NASCAR Cup Series drivers joined the iRacing series. While several appeared in a class of their own at the beginning, Byron, Landon Cassill, Hamlin, Hill, and Smithley, others have progressed to be competitive. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson all improved, including some turning to the Virtual Racing School to learn the nuances of the motorsports simulation.

Hamlin admitted that it was fun to see him competitors progress and improve in the series:

“For me it was fun to see the progression of the guys who had been doing it quite a bit, and you’ve also got the guys that are just starting it for the first time, have zero starts before the Invitational. To watch them get better and better, and to watch the commitment that they all put in to get better. 

“Listen, nobody wants to go out there and suck. Throughout the entire week, guys are running hundreds and hundreds of laps at these tracks to get better because they want to put on a good showing, they want to be competitive. That’s what drives us to be the racecar drivers that we are in real life, is the fire to want to be better. 

Everyone knows that everything is level. No one has a car advantage, no one has a setup advantage, no one has a team advantage. It’s all about the driver. We take a lot of pride in performing well when that happens.”

North Wilkesboro will be available to the public June 2. NASCAR on FOX’s Mike Joy also revealed that iRacing will be releasing a 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and a 1987 Ford Thunderbird to compliment the 1987-era track.

The results:

1. 11-Denny Hamlin [9], 2. 66-Timmy Hill [25], 3. 31-Tyler Reddick [3], 4. 6-Ross Chastain [8], 5. 3-Austin Dillon [11], 6. 51-Garrett Smithley [6], 7. 15-Brennan Poole [15], 8. 77-Parker Kligerman [10], 9. 4-Kevin Harvick [13], 10. 89-Landon Cassill [12], 11. 52-JJ Yeley [21], 12. 14-Clint Bowyer [29], 13. 21-Jon Wood [22], 14. 95-Christopher Bell [26], 15. 8-Dale Earnhardt Jr. [5], 16. 41-Cole Custer [1], 17. 53-Joey Gase [28], 18. 24-Jeff Gordon [23], 19. 18b-Bobby Labonte [16], 20. 19-Martin Truex Jr. [14], 21. 17-Chris Buescher [24], 22. 20-Erik Jones [17], 23. 18-Kyle Busch [20], 24. 38-John Hunter Nemechek [7], 25. 32-Corey LaJoie [4], 26. 10-Aric Almirola [19], 27. 37-Ryan Preece [2], 28. 34-Michael McDowell [27], 29. 13-Ty Dillon [18].

Lead Changes: Seven among five drivers

Lap Leaders: Cole Custer 1-12, Ryan Preece 13-31, Ross Chastain 32-40, Ryan Preece 41-53, Christopher Bell 54-114, Denny Hamlin 115-129, Ross Chastain 130-151, Denny Hamlin 152-160.

Laps Led: Christopher Bell 61, Ryan Preece 32, Ross Chastain 31, Denny Hamlin 24, Cole Custer 12.

Hard Charger: 66-Timmy Hill (+23)

Caution Flags: Eight for 53 laps

Time of Race: One hour, eight minutes, 24.411 seconds

Average Speed: 87.711 mph

Busch Pole Award: 77-Parker Kligerman, 17.829 seconds (126.199 mph)

Fastest Lap: 8-Dale Earnhardt Jr., 17.927 seconds (125.509 mph)

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