Denny Hamlin (11) beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. off the final corner Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway track. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo
March 22 (UPI) -- With the NASCAR season halted by the coronavirus pandemic, Denny Hamlin won Sunday's inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 champion, beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. off the final corner in the debut event. Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe and pole-winner Garrett Smithley rounded out the top five.
Earnhardt, who retired from the NASCAR Cup Series at the conclusion of the 2017 season, was ahead going into the last lap and running on the inside. Hamlin took the lead on the backstretch before the two made contact coming out of the fourth turn. Earnhardt was pushed to the inside of the virtual track as Hamlin took the checkered flag.
The 100-lap iRace, which was televised on FOX Sports 1, featured many of NASCAR's top drivers in the 35-car field, including Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Bobby Labonte, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The virtual race served as a charity event for individuals affected by COVID-19, which has temporarily paused most action in the sports world. Before the race, Hamlin pledged to donate $100 for each lap that he led and $5,000 for winning the event.
With his victory, Hamlin will donate $6,400 to The NASCAR Foundation to assist Miami-area families impacted by the virus. Other drivers also have matched and added on to his donation.
"It's always fun when you win," Hamlin told reporters. "Regardless, it was a great event for the racing community and the NASCAR drivers to come together to put 20-something drivers on the race track with such short notice.
"Everyone is buying simulation rigs this week and last week getting ready for the event, and for it all to come together and have a great finish, I think it was definitely a success."
It was Hamlin's 31st victory in iRacing, which is where he was discovered by Earnhardt before making it to NASCAR. Hamlin documented his close victory on social media.
NASCAR suspended its real-life racing until at least May 9 because of the coronavirus outbreak. Drivers were supposed to be racing Sunday at Homestead before the virus brought sports events to a halt.