The coronavirus pandemic has stopped sports nearly everywhere, but NASCAR is finding a way to help fans, and drivers, fill the void while the season is postponed until at least May 3. The drivers are not able to get in their actual vehicles and race in front of thousands of fans, but they have found a way to still compete.
On Tuesday, iRacing, the online simulator, and NASCAR announced they will hold the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. This will take place over multiple weeks and includes some of the biggest names in racing, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bobby Labonte, along with current stars Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell will all also be taking part.
The 35-car lineup will also see Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Timmy Hill, Michael McDowell, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece, Garrett Smithley, Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Parker Kligerman, Landon Cassill and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Here's how iRacing works: Drivers need a computer, a steering wheel and pedals, and the set-up is a reflection of an actual car. The backdrops even reflect real tracks. The first race of this series is taking place on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET at a virtual version of the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The track was meant to be the location of the NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend, but with the coronavirus rapidly spreading, NASCAR had no choice but to halt the season. Fans will still be able to see a race take place there this weekend, and while video games are not the same as real life, this is certainly better than nothing.
FOX will be broadcasting Sunday's race with Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds on the call.
Some drivers actually got their start in the sport through iRacing.
"I was very good at iRacing back in the day; I sat on the pole and won some really big, prestigious races," Hamlin told NBC Sports in February. "Now back then, there were like 5,000 people that raced online, and now there's over a hundred thousand that do iRacing."
Seven NASCAR Cup Series events have been postponed, so as fans get more and more desperate to watch racing, this iRacing series could get quite popular.
Last week, drivers took part in The Replacements 100, a one-time race that gave fans a look at what this iRacing series could look like. Earnhardt, Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Bubba Wallace Jr., all participated along with Ryan Blaney's spotter Josh Williams, who got the win.
The broadcast on Twitch peaked with 27,000 viewers tuning in.