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Byron wins Food City Showdown at virtual BMS

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 5, 2020 at 6:45 PM

William Byron was virtually unstoppable in the Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.

The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet led 114 of 150 laps to win the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event Sunday.

Byron started on the pole and led the first 72 laps. After pitting for tires midway, he took the lead from Chris Buescher with 42 laps to go and led the rest of the way.

John Hunter Nemechek finished second in his virtual Ford, followed by Timmy Hill, last week’s winner. Denny Hamlin, winner of the Miami virtual race, and Matt DiBenedetto completed the top five.

“I knew the top five or 10 guys knew what they were doing,” Byron said. “Those were the guys I was worried about racing. Those in the back aren’t quite as experienced in it. I get it’s for fun, but mentally I try to treat it as a race when it’s going on. It was frustrating because we hadn’t closed one (of the Pro Invitational races) after leading the most laps. To finally close the deal, it’s just awesome.”

It was the 293rd career iRacing win in 1,469 career starts for the 22-year-old Byron, who began his racing career on the simulator. Virtual racing led to racing real cars and his current role as driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“I started to get started on my racing career because I saw Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. promote it,” Byron said. “I used to watch the NASCAR races on TV and then I would go iRace once the race was over to figure out what it would be like to be those guys.

“I’m fortunate to run the real race cars, but I’m fortunate for what iRacing taught me.”

Other notable finishes included defending NASCAR champion Kyle Busch in 18th after a late-race accident and Earnhardt in 22nd.

The race, which had 12 caution periods totaling 66 laps, even had a couple of “Bristol moments.”

Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez ran into each other under caution after a lap-72 crash. The retaliation led to both drivers being parked for the remainder of the race.

Earlier, Bubba Wallace parked his virtual No. 43 car in frustration, a condition most veteran video game players label “rage quitting.”

BEFORE THE FEATURE

Byron held off Christopher Bell to win the first of two heat races that set a 32-car virtual field. Nemechek won the second heat race, beating Ryan Preece in a photo finish. The official margin of victory was .006 seconds.

Twelve-time Bristol Cup Series winner Darrell Waltrip delivered the invocation and actress Rita Wilson, wife of actor Tom Hanks, sang the national anthem for the feature race. Both Wilson and Hanks had been diagnosed with the coronavirus in March.

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