DOVER, Del. (May 3, 2020) – Leave it to a driver who literally grew up with iRacing to make history at virtual Dover International Speedway.
William Byron passed Timmy Hill with less with six laps remaining, then held off Christopher Bell by .301 seconds at the finish on Sunday to win the “eNASCAR Finish Line 150” at the first Pro Invitational Series race at the virtual Monster Mile.
It was Byron’s third Pro Invitational Series win of the spring, joining his victories at virtual Bristol and virtual Richmond. The “eNASCAR Finish Line 150” is the final event of the six-race Pro Invitational Series schedule at NASCAR tracks where races were postponed earlier this year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Byron led a race-high 79 laps, but found himself in the pack late after taking four tires on a pit stop before the final restart. After making his way to the back bumper of Hill for the lead, Byron made the smooth pass at the end of Lap 144 on his way to the win.
“We had to go on that last restart,” said Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and the pre-race betting favorite. “Four tires at the end was the right call to be aggressive. I’ve enjoyed this series but I’m definitely ready to get back in my normal car.”
NASCAR announced last week that it would return to its Cup Series schedule at Darlington on May 17. Byron and his fellow NASCAR stars are scheduled to return to Dover Aug. 21-23 for a tripleheader weekend, including the “Drydene 400” NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, Aug. 23.
Byron’s racing career began in the virtual world of iRacing before joining NASCAR in 2015. Since that transition, the 22-year-old has won championships in the ARCA Menards Series East and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He is still looking for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory since joining the series full-time in 2018.
“I’ve never been in such a competitive environment for weeks on end with iRacing,” Byron said. “It’s definitely taught me a lot at all the tracks we’ve run.”
Seven drivers led at least one lap in Sunday’s virtual race, with nine caution periods taking up 40 of the 150 laps. Of the 36 drivers that started the race, 25 were running at the end, with 16 on the lead lap at virtual Dover, which received rave reviews.
“I think Dover is the most realistic of the [iRacing] tracks we’ve run,” said Fox Sports analyst Jeff Gordon, a five-time Dover winner in the Cup Series.
Hill finished third, followed by Erik Jones in fourth and Michael McDowell in fifth.
“I knew I was a sitting duck when William made it through the pack clean,” said Hill, who also earned an iRacing win at Texas earlier this spring.
Several stars from the entertainment world participated as pre-race dignitaries Sunday, including singer, songwriter and TV host Blake Shelton as the grand marshal, actor and singer David Hasselhoff performing the national anthem, author Jason Romano giving the invocation and singer Travis Denning providing pre-race entertainment. There was also a virtual fly-over, featuring four A-10C Thunderbolts from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
On Saturday, virtual Dover International Speedway hosted the 125-lap Saturday Night Thunder event with drivers from NASCAR national series and other divisions competing in Xfinity Series cars. Anthony Alfredo, a part-time Xfinity Series driver with Richard Childress Racing, led 15 laps on his way to winning the event, topping runner-up Alex Labbe and third-place finisher Raphael Lessard.
“It’s so cool that NASCAR and iRacing have put these events on for drivers to have fun and even learn some things for when we go back racing,” Alfredo said. “It felt like real life to me for the meaning of it and how hard it was.”