There were 12 caution periods covering 66 laps during Sunday’s Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway. Bubba Wallace finished last after getting mad and quitting the game, and race officials parked Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez after the drivers kept their cars into each other after an accident.
Although the drivers were racing on the computer at their homes instead of inside hot race cars at the actual track, the intensity had significantly ramped up from Week 1.
“I think the easy excuse is to say, oh, it’s a game and all that, but at the end of the day, everyone is racing — and seeing how much time some guys have put in, I know that it means something to them,” said Byron, the race winner. “It’s race craft, and I feel like race craft is the same no matter what you’re racing; whether it’s on a computer or at the dirt track or at an asphalt race, it’s the same.”
Byron, who has over 1,400 iRacing starts, sees how much it means to the Busch brothers. Two-time NASCAR champion Kyle Busch and one-time champion Kurt Busch had no iRacing starts prior to the Pro Invitational Series. Like others, including seven- time champion Jimmie Johnson, they’ve been putting in hours to get better.
It’s helped them quickly get up to speed and, just like at the actual Bristol track, Kyle Busch made a pair of charges up through the field. His final result of 18th didn’t show it after he got in a late-race accident.
“Kyle was pretty fast this week. I did a couple of practice races on Friday, and Denny (Hamlin) was really good and Kurt was pretty fast, too,” Byron said. “I think the people that have strengths at certain racetracks are going to show up, and ultimately it’s just about kind of knowing the little nuances that are going to make you faster.
“I wish we would have a little bit longer runs because I think you would have seen the guys who really had it figured out. I think Kyle and Denny and some of those guys would have come to the front.”
Byron uses iRacing frequently to help him when he’s behind the wheel of the real No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He also took a lesson from the previous week’s Pro Invitational Series event at virtual Texas Motor Speedway where Timmy Hill bumped him out of the way for the win. Byron showed up with a win-or-bust attitude at virtual Bristol.
“Last week, obviously, getting moved out of the way, I learned something there and kind of applied that towards this week,” he said. “I got a little bit more aggressive with some of my moves and tried to do that back to the guys so that I can kind of establish position on them.”
After starting from the outside pole in the 2019 Food City 500 and with four actual Bristol Cup Series starts under his belt, Byron hopes the virtual victory leads to a good performance in his actual race car. He found that to be the case in the truck series.
“I feel like the first time that I went there in the real car, everything from iRacing translated really well, and I did well, but then when I got into the Cup car I was a little bit lost,” he said. “I worked on it a little bit this week, and I feel much better about it. I’m excited to go back there soon.”