Considering William Byron started his racing career thanks to iRacing, it probably comes with little surprise that he is the first race winner of the 2021 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series season. Held on Bristol Motor Speedway‘s dirt surface for the first time ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series‘ Food City Dirt Race there on Sunday, Byron dominated his heat race and much of the feature on Wednesday night en route to his series-leading fourth win.
Like what is planned for the real-life Bristol race, four heat races were held to set the starting grid. The top seven in each heat advanced to the feature.
Thirty-eight drivers were entered: all thirty-six chartered cars comprised the bulk of the field as mandated, though Kevin Harvick relinquished his to Ryan Preece for the race, while Garrett Smithley was in Rick Ware Racing‘s #51 instead of regular driver Cody Ware. Timmy Hill, the unofficial champion in 2020, was not invited despite being a full-time Cup driver, sparking furor on social media before Austin Cindric—who was to drive Team Penske‘s #2 in Brad Keselowski‘s place—allowed Hill to take over. Broadcasters Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer were also entered.
Joey Logano was the fastest qualifier but James Davison ultimately won the opening heat ahead of dirt experts Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson. Hill, Logano, Kyle Busch, and Justin Haley also advanced to the feature, while Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, and Chase Briscoe did not.
Briscoe, also a dirt ace, failed to qualify after flipping multiple times, leading him to remark on Twitter afterward, “Where’s the virtual infield care center?” Blaney, who won Sunday’s real-life race at Atlanta, also missed the feature and quipped, “Glad we are already locked into the playoffs after missing the A main tonight.”
Chris Buescher led the second heat to the green flag but Byron would dominate the race. Instead, much of the action took place for the final transfer spot as Josh Bilicki and Quin Houff battled it out. As Byron took the win ahead of Buescher, Michael McDowell, Anthony Alfredo, Ross Chastain, and Bubba Wallace, Houff held off Bilicki to move on. Bowyer, Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman were knocked out.
Smithley led much of Heat #3 before being passed by Ryan Preece wioth three laps to go. Joey Gase, Corey LaJoie, Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, and Tyler Reddick moved on while Austin Dillon, Daniel Suárez, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and B.J. McLeod did not.
Davison and Byron comprised the front row for the start of the feature. The former led until the caution came out on lap ten when Bowman and LaJoie wrecked; Smithley, Wallace, and Chastain were also collected.
Buescher briefly led laps as the race resumed before Byron returned to the lead. The race ran green until lap 40 when Houff spun and LaJoie was involved. Ten laps later, LaJoie’s rough night continued with yet another wreck. Other incidents included Hill crashing and a wreck involving Larson, McDowell, and Houff, though neither were waved for cautions.
The final restart came with seven laps to go as Byron and Reddick led the field to green. Although DiBenedetto and McDowell wrecked together coming to the restart and Buescher spun with five laps remaining, the race ran green to the checkered flag as Byron scored his series-best fourth win. He had won thrice in 2020 on Bristol’s concrete surface, Richmond, and Dover. Hamlin is the only other driver to have multiple PIS wins with two.
“Had fun tonight on the Virtual Dirt and got the W!” Byron tweeted. “[…] Hopefully can have a nice weekend at Bristol.”
Reddick, Bell, Smithley, Davison, Bowman, Larson, Hill, Chastain, and Gase rounded out the top ten.
The next race is planned for 21 April at Talladega Superspeedway, where Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Bowman won in 2020. Unlike its inaugural season, the Pro Invitational Series will only race in the buildup to major events on the Cup schedule, including a special Chicago street course in June.