May 10th, 2020 by Chris Leone
The racing may have been virtual on Saturday afternoon, but the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series brought NASCAR fans back to a golden age of the sport with Saturday’s North Wilkesboro 160 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. One of NASCAR’s most beloved tracks of yesteryear made its return, legendary drivers like Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte were running their most iconic paint schemes, and the fans got a bump and run for the win when Denny Hamlin moved Ross Chastain out of the way in the closing laps to cap off the seven-race invitational campaign with a win.
Hamlin opened the digital season with a photo finish victory over Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and after two months of ups and downs (highlighted by his daughter turning off his monitor mid-race at Talladega) finally returned to the winner’s circle after running up front all day on the .625-mile oval. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 24 laps, second to only Christopher Bell’s race-high 61, Ryan Preece’s 32 and Chastain’s 31. Cole Custer also spent time up front for 12 laps. Timmy Hill and Tyler Reddick also got around Chastain to finish second and third, while Austin Dillon completed the top five.
North Wilkesboro, which hasn’t seen a real-world NASCAR Cup Series race since 1996, was brought back to life in iRacing after Dale Earnhardt Jr. successfully lobbied to have the track scanned. The process began late last year after extensive cleanup efforts from Speedway Motorsports Inc. staff and a crew of volunteers. The track was digitally restored to its condition in 1987 after an extensive research project, and will join a pair of vintage stock cars from that season, Bill Elliott’s Ford Thunderbird and Dale Earnhardt’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in iRacing’s June build.
The throwback track also inspired plenty of throwback paint schemes. Gordon made his second series start, driving his iconic Rainbow Warrior paint scheme that won the final North Wilkesboro race, while Labonte ran his 2000 NASCAR Cup Series title-winning scheme. Earnhardt Jr. and Jon Wood drove in cars that celebrated their families’ extensive racing heritages, while Richard Childress Racing ran a pair of Dale Earnhardt-inspired throwbacks, JJ Yeley paid tribute to Ken Schrader, Joey Gase celebrated team owner Rick Ware, and Hill’s car ran in homage to Phil Parsons.
Click here for full results from the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series North Wilkesboro 160.
The stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will get back on track on Sunday, May 17 at Darlington Speedway, with 400 miles of racing being shown live at 3:30PM ET on FOX. In addition, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series returns to action this Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, streaming at 9PM ET at eNASCAR.com/live and on the iRacing eSports Network. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit www.iracing.com.