NASCAR goes virtual at Thunder Valley

Kyle Busch is the current king of Thunder Valley.

The driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota leads all active drivers with eight wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. But when it comes to virtual motorsports, the reigning NASCAR Cup champion is a rookie.

When Busch takes the green flag in the Food City Showdown in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on Sunday, it will mark just his third start on the tour.

“I’ve learned a little bit about it, but, overall, I felt like we were pretty good at Homestead coming from the back and picking off a few guys and passing some cars,” Busch said. “Then the crashes would happen, and I would never be able to slow up or check up quick enough. These cars online here, they bounce off the wall way faster than they do in real life, so trying to judge how they ricochet and what is going to happen is hard to do. 

“Last week at Texas, we got caught up in that first wreck. I think being able to qualify up front and get some track position – that would be nice to start with and seems important. I’m sure it’s even more important at a place like Bristol, so we’ll see if we can get a good finish this weekend with our M&M’S Messages Camry.”

Sunday would have marked the first NASCAR Cup short track race of the 2020 season—before shelter-at-home has became the new reality during the coronavirus crisis. So Busch, like many of his NASCAR peers, will climb aboard whatever racing setup is available and join the competition. 

Despite his previous success on the half-mile bullring, it’s unlikely Busch’s prowess will transfer at Virtual Bristol Motor Speedway against drivers with thousands of hours on the simulator. Although his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin won the inaugural eNASCAR event at Homestead-Miami Speedway—the first race of the Pro Invitational tour—iRacing Series regular Timmy Hill took the checkers last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. 

Hill is an iRacing ringer with  674 wins in 1,677 starts. In a racing world where all things are equal, Hill is a star. This year, in his 186th-career start in  the Xfinity Series, the 27-year-old finally scored his first top-five finish in the season opener at Daytona--before the virus forced a halt to racing on real asphalt.

Like Hamlin, Logan Seavey’s victory in the inaugural Saturday Night Thunder 150 at VBMS was a bit more realistic. After all, as the 2018 USAC Midget champ has attempted to transition from open wheel to stock car racing, Seavey, 22, won in his second ARCA start. In four races with Venturini Motorsports, he hasn’t finished worst than fourth. Despite competing against 23 other drivers from six different series, Seavey held off Chase Cabre by 1.370-seconds. 

Thirty-one Cup drivers will vie for the virtual trophy from VBMS on Sunday—including former Bristol winners Kurt and Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin. Sunday's event will feature two 50-lap heat races leading up to the 150-lap main event on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports App. 

Could we see another new winner this weekend? Bubba Wallace hopes so. 

“Bristol is going to be tough,” Wallace said. “You can kind of get away with it in real life. It’s tough; you hit the wall, you’re cutting a tire quick. But here, it depends on where you hit with the car, it really affects your performance pretty bad. So, it’s going to be tough. There are going to be a lot of close-quarters racing. The guys on the bottom may have a little bit of an advantage because it’s so easy to get in contact. 

“It’s those things that will take you out of contention quick. There’s definitely going to have to be a lot of give and take.”

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