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Virtual Talladega featured all the wrecks, none of the danger

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 28, 2020 at 4:00 PM

The “Big Ones” came but without the dangers of restrictor-plate racing.

Virtual racing imitated the real thing at Talladega Superspeedway with multicar wrecks dotting the action in Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Geico 70.

The first wreck ended with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s flipping multiple times and his sim car in the catchfence at the virtual speedway. But instead of leaving the track with medical personnel, Gordon simply hit the reset button and his No. 24 Chevrolet rejoined the iRacing.

A real-life version of the race action would be incredibly dangerous, as demonstrated by Ryan Newman’s last-lap crash in February’s Daytona 500 that left the Roush Fenway Racing driver not terribly hurt but sidelined.

Race winner Alex Bowman was involved in Sunday’s crash as well but also simply continued without damage to his No. 88 Chevrolet.

“Didn’t hurt when I crashed,” Bowman said during a post-race teleconference. “I got a quick fix and reset the car and kept digging, so that was good.”

From the standpoint of seeing drivers uninjured, the virtual race was more enjoyable than a real restrictor-plate race.

Bowman held off Corey LaJoie for the victory. Ryan Preece, Garrett Smithley and Landon Cassill rounded out the top five.

Like a true Talladega race, drivers from underdog teams were able to come up with good finishes on NASCAR’s longest track and different drivers ran amongst the leaders.

Bowman, who earned a NASCAR Cup Series victory at California Speedway on March 1, was racing side by side with Ty Dillon entering the final turn. Dillon crashed and Bowman beat LaJoie to the finish line.

The win came in just the fifth official iRacing start for Bowman, a 27-year-old from Tucson, Arizona. He pointed to marked differences from the real race, particularly noting not having the feel of turbulent air around him.

“I would say the biggest difference for me is just not having the side draft,” he said. “The way that the aerodynamics of the cars are in real life, you use the side draft a ton. It’s really crucial, and you can really stall guys’ runs out and build runs that way, whereas in iRacing, kind of with the model that they have, that side draft doesn’t work the same way.

“It’s really, really different than it is at the real racetrack.”

Brad Keselowski, Gordon and Kyle Busch, all NASCAR champions without much virtual experience, also had their times running with the lead pack.

Bowman joined Denny Hamlin as drivers to win in both the virtual and real Cup Series this season.

Like a normal Talladega race, some drivers had little to show for strong runs. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Gordon all finished outside the top 25. Hamlin had an unprecedented DNF when his 7-year-old daughter accidentally turned off the monitor.

The race continued to fill a void of live sporting events, although Bowman said the iRacing doesn’t fulfill his need for speed.

“It doesn’t satisfy it for me. I can’t wait to get back in a real race car,” he said. “I think that’s something that is definitely important for me. The iRacing thing is great, and I think we’ve done a really good job entertaining the fans, but as far as it being actually driving a race car, it’s not, and we all want to get back in the real thing. Hopefully, we get to do that soon.”

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