Denny Hamlin moves Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational

Denny Hamlin at Texas Motor Speedway, November 2019
credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Denny Hamlin moved Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the way on the last lap to score the win in the inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 held at the virtual Miami-Homestead Speedway.

The event broadcast on FS1 and came complete with commentary by Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy, and in-race reporter Clint Bowyer. The field of 35 consisted of 29 current and past Cup drivers, including Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, with the final six spots filled by Truck and Xfinity drivers who competed for those spots.

With the NASCAR season on hold because of the spread of COVID-19, fans and industry insiders alike watched as polewinner Garrett Smithley switched leads with Timmy Hill and Chase Briscoe  throughout the caution-filled race. Smithley, Hill, and Briscoe -  all with triple-digit iRacing wins on their resumes - led at various points in the caution-filled race. When Earnhardt took the lead, the virtual crowd went wild.

In the closing laps, veteran e-racer Earnhardt held off Smithley and Hill but lost the lead when Hamlin, who was on fresher tires, side-bumped him out of the groove to take checkered flag.

“I just wanted to get a good finish,” Earnhardt said in his post-race Periscope broadcast. “I didn’t even think I would be in it for the win because there are so many fast guys out there.” Earnhardt fans apparently have Jeff Gordon to thank for his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate’s participation. Earnhardt said Gordon called and invited him about a week ago.

When asked if he would use the same type of move to win a real race, Hamlin said, “Yeah, definitely. I wanted the bottom, and he was really, really smart to - I mean, he didn't win, but he was smart to kind of block the bottom there because the bottom lane at Homestead on iRacing just has tremendous more grip than what the lane I was running in, but I knew that the difference in the two lanes was about a tenth and a half to two tenths, and I thought my tires were about three tenths better. So I thought as long as I got beside him, I was going to be able to complete it, even though he was in the preferred groove.”

“It was a risky call. I don't know what we were, 18 laps to go or so and we decided to pit from third, and I didn't see anyone really come in behind me, so I just - I was nervous,” Hamlin said. “Restarting where I was, I thought I was going to get in a wreck or not make it back up there, but certainly would have done it the same exact way in real life.”

Hamlin pledged $100 per lap led and $5000 if he won the race to go toward families in the Homestead-Miami area affected by the COVID-19 virus. Kevin Harvick did not participate in the race, but he committed to matching Hamlin’s donation, as did FOX Sports.

What the race lacked in realism it made up for in pure entertainment factor, with many fans online saying that they were relaxing for the first time in days. While no announcements have been made about additional exhibitions, Earnhardt indicated it would be likely to happen at least a couple of times.

Here’s the final finishing order, courtesy of Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports.

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin – FedEx Toyota Camry
No. 8 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – FilterTime Chevrolet Camaro
No. 66 – Timmy Hill – Toyota Camry
No. 98 – Chase Briscoe – HighPoint Ford Mustang
No. 51 – Garrett Smithley – Rich Mar Florist Chevrolet Camaro
No. 88 – Alex Bowman – Llumar Windows Chevrolet Camaro
No. 43 – Bubba Wallace – World Wide Technology Chevrolet Camaro
No. 37 – Ryan Preece – Tide Chevrolet Camaro
No. 45 – Ty Majeski – CMR Roofing Chevrolet Camaro
No. 20 – Erik Jones – DeWalt Tools Toyota Camry
No. 21 – Matt DiBendetto – Motorcraft Ford Mustang
No. 89 – Landon Cassill – Radius Chevrolet Camaro
No. 77 – Parker Kligerman – Valvoline Toyota Camry
No. 6 – Ross Chastain – Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang
No. 22 – Joey Logano – Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
No. 14 – Clint Bowyer – Mobil1 Ford Mustang
No. 40 – Ryan Truex – Marquis Spa’s Chevrolet Camaro
No. 19 – Bobby Labonte – Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry
No. 13 – Ty Dillon – GEICO Chevrolet Camaro
No. 7 – Justin Allgaier – BRANDT Fresh Agriculture Chevrolet Camaro
No. 47 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – Kroger Chevrolet Camaro
No. 12 – Austin Cindric – Odyssey Batteries Ford Mustang
No. 34 – Michael McDowell – Love’s Travel Shops Ford Mustang
No. 9 – Chase Elliott – Hooters Chevrolet Camaro
No. 2 – Brad Keselowski – Money Lion Ford Mustang
No. 95 – Christopher Bell – Rheem Toyota Camry
No. 3 – Austin Dillon – Keep America Beautiful / Dow Chemicals Chevrolet Camaro
No. 17 – Chris Buescher – Fastenal Ford Mustang
No. 18 – Kyle Busch – M&M’s Toyota Camry
No. 38 – John Hunter Nemechek – Citgard Ford Mustang
No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson – Ally Financial Chevrolet Camaro
No. 33 – Anthony Alfredo  – Alsco Chevrolet Camaro
No. 42 – Kyle Larson – Credit One Bank Chevrolet Camaro
No. 24 – William Byron – Axalta Chevrolet Camaro
No. 1 – Kurt Busch – Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro

Denny Hamlin moves Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Denny Hamlin moves Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, March 22, 2020 Rating: 5