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NASCAR: Fox to air second virtual race featuring top drivers, announcers

NASCAR Cup Series star Denny Hamlin held off retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the iRacing Pro Series Invitational's Dixie Vodka 150 on Sunday at iRacing’s virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI
NASCAR Cup Series star Denny Hamlin held off retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the iRacing Pro Series Invitational's Dixie Vodka 150 on Sunday at iRacing’s virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo

March 26 (UPI) -- Fox will air a virtual NASCAR race for the second consecutive Sunday after nearly 1 million viewers tuned in for the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series event.

Drivers who compete in iRacing use a computer connected to the Internet, a monitor, steering wheel, driver's seat and pedals to compete against other drivers in virtual races while being watched by fans who subscribe to the events.

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The drivers use a variety of setups -- called rigs -- to compete, including multiple monitors and vibrating platforms.

Sports-starved fans can catch a re-airing of the first race -- the Dixie Vodka 150 at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- at 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday on Fox. The second race will be at a virtual version of Texas Motor Speedway and air at 1 p.m. EDT Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports app.

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Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin won the first race by leading the 35-car field March 22 at the virtual version of Homestead-Miami Speedway. He competed while barefoot on his $40,000 in-home iRacing rig.

Hamlin won the race by passing retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the final lap of the Dixie Vodka 150. Earnhardt said he has competed against Hamlin on racing simulators for two decades. Fellow drivers Timmy Hill, Chase Briscoe and pole-winner Garrett Smithley rounded out the top five in the virtual race.

"I like feeling the pedals, with shoes I just can't do it, so I always go barefoot," Hamlin told NASCAR.com. "I just ran my line. [Earnhardt] gave me the proper space and we were able to race to the [finish] line."

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Drivers from the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series participate in the simulation races. Cup Series stars Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are among those competing. NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte also participated in the first race.

Nielsen Media Research reported 903,000 viewers watched the first race, which ran 90 minutes. The event was the highest-rated esports TV program in history.

Fox broadcasters Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds called the race from a studio in Charlotte, N.C. Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer also provided "in-car" commentary.

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NASCAR has suspended its racing season until at least May because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASCAR plans to return May 9 at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va. NASCAR still plans to hold all 36 races this season.

"The response on social media to last Sunday's [iRacing] race has been incredible," Gordon said in a NASCAR news release. "We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of 'normalcy' back to the weekend, and I can't wait to call the action Sunday at Texas."

Hamlin donated $100 per lap led and $5,000 for winning the race -- a total of $6,400 -- to the NASCAR Foundation to help Miami-area families impacted by the coronavirus. No prize money is being awarded to the iRacing competitors.

How to watch

What: eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series

Who: Drivers from NASCAR's Cup Series, Xfinity Series and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series

When: 1 p.m. EDT Sunday

Where: Virtual Texas Motor Speedway

TV: Fox, FS1

Stream: Fox Sports app

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