NASCAR: Now is the time for eSports to shine

With NASCAR and the entire motorsports world at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s really nothing to watch live.

It’s weird.

Fans are not used to dealing with an extended break during March (and through at least April). If you’re a motorsports fan, there are no forms of professional motorsports happening.

No NASCAR, no IndyCar, no Formula 1, no IMSA, etc. The only way right now to watch auto racing is to go through the archives on YouTube, NBC Sports Gold or TrackPass and binge-watch old races.

Others have decided to hop on their gaming consoles or PCs and play some NASCAR Heat or iRacing among others. A lot of people in the racing community such as drivers, crew chiefs, spotters and even fans are taking advantage of this.

Once it was announced that the NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway was postponed, NASCAR developmental driver and social media star Ryan Vargas took to Twitter to announce that he would be hosting a Truck Series race on iRacing for charity, and the event had nearly 300 participants competing!

There were so many iRacers that there had to be heat racing, a common part of local short track and dirt racing.

This is a perfect time for the eSports world to take advantage in NASCAR specifically. Let’s break down why.

The first notable iRacing event this past week was known as “The Replacements 100”, organized by Cup Series spotters Kevin Hamlin and T.J. Majors. They gathered their Wednesday night iRacing group together and were curious if they wanted to race Sunday in order to give fans something to watch with nothing happening in live auto racing.

They contacted numerous NASCAR dignitaries, and look at who joined: Cup drivers such as William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman and Garrett Smithley.

Xfinity drivers Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Anthony Alfredo, Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson also joined, as did Truck Series drivers Ben Rhodes and Tyler Ankrum. Cup Series crew chief Chad Knaus even got in on the fun!

In the end, Josh Williams, Ryan Blaney’s spotter, took the #12 Advance Auto Parts Team Penske Ford, the car that Blaney was supposed to run last Sunday, to virtual victory lane.

Due to all of the notable personalities in this race, the broadcast received about 30,000 views on the Podium eSports Twitch account, according to The Charlotte Observer — impressive! It garnered a lot of talk on social media the following day, even on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio when Williams and one of the commentators came on to the airwaves.

This past Tuesday, NASCAR held their popular eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway. This is a series that NASCAR has been running since 2010, every other week during the Cup Series season.

A lot of Cup Series drivers such as Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson field teams, and actual Cup Series teams such as Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have their own teams. Last year, Zack Novak won the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway driving for Roush Fenway Racing.

Look at the YouTube ratings from the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series’ Daytona 500 as well as those from the most recent race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on the channels of both NASCAR and iRacing.

The Daytona 500 has over 88,000 combined live and archived views while the most recent race at Homestead-Miami Speedway reached over 80,000 views in just two days. NASCAR’s upload of this race on YouTube already has over 60,000 views, which is several thousand more than the Daytona 500.

It goes to show that fans miss their stock car racing a lot and need it badly.

On Thursday night, Vargas held what was known as eTruck Series Night in America Powered by FilterTime, which may have been the best iRacing event of the week. As mentioned earlier, over 300 entries led to heat racing, which led to 43 drivers qualifying for the 100-lap feature.

Drivers competing included Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown, Truck Series driver Christian Eckes and ARCA Menards Series drivers Ty Gibbs, Connor Hall, Chase Cabre and Ruben Garcia. Even Hailie Deegan joined in on the fun, as the ARCA driver joined the main commentators in the booth.

Novak got shuffled to the back and moved his way back up to win this special event, surviving two overtime restarts. We don’t have viewer analytics on it, but on social media, there was a lot of talk.

While that has been the best event, this Sunday may be even better and get more people talking. NASCAR announced the creation of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which is slated to last for the next few weeks while real racing is postponed.

Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano among others are set to compete. In fact, in the full 35-car lineup for the series, 26 of those drivers are from the Cup Series. A few Xfinity Series and Truck Series drivers are set to compete as well.

Fox Sports 1 is set to broadcast this race live, making it the first eNASCAR race to be televised live on a Fox network. Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon will be on the call, while Clint Bowyer will act as an in-car analyst.

Last year, NBC Sports Network provided the first ever eNASCAR races to go live on pay television, with the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series All-Star Race and the championship race. Even fantasy racing will be in effect, as Fox Sports is using this Sunday’s eRace in their Super 6 game.

Other forms of motorsports have decided to show off the eSports side as well, with IndyCar and IMSA each announcing iRacing Series and Formula 1 starting an eSports series on F1 2019 for PC.

On the console side for NASCAR, NASCAR Heat 4 is getting some popularity. Their preseason roster has been set up for the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, the only console series that NASCAR sanctions, as some of the big NASCAR teams take two sim racers, one on Xbox and one on PlayStation.

Anyone who owns NASCAR Heat 4 can qualify for the preseason roster by going through Pro League qualifying races. A draft will be held in the next few weeks for teams as teams scout out some of the best console drivers in the game. This got a lot of attention last year, featuring mixed reactions from fans.

Next: NASCAR Cup Series: 8 tracks to add to the schedule

It is a big time for fans to watch some eNASCAR Racing, and they will not be disappointed. This is the next best thing in racing video games and the best thing in racing right now. This Sunday, I hope you tune in to the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational at 1:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Load Comments