hamlin

Denny Hamlin watches a TV monitor as the last car qualifies for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Hamlin won the pole for Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Palm trees, charismatic stars, multi-car wrecks and a thrilling finish.

Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway had all the qualities that stock car fans crave.

The inaugural 100-lap event, which was shown live on network TV, even became the top trending topic on Twitter.

Racers in various forms of motorsport have long relied on iRacing as a tool to hone their skills and prepare for the challenges of various tracks, but esports are an acquired taste.

There were many skeptics entering Sunday, with some equating the idea to a cartoon.

While the telecast had some flaws, including cars that would magically vanish or drive through other cars, the bottom line was all about fun.

In a world gripped by anxiety and fear over the coronavirus pandemic, we could all definitely use some fun and competition.

From open-wheel racing to motocross, gamers have ample opportunities to pursue their need for speed.

And the door is now open for other sports leagues to follow the lead of NASCAR and bring their games to a wider audience.

Basketball fans can play NBA 2K20, while baseball has MLB The Show.

Thanks to the ingenuity of iRacing, NASCAR has set the bar high.

Sunday’s telecast even had a prerace prayer and national anthem.

Iconic tracks ranging from North Wilkesboro Speedway to Bristol Motor Speedway have been laser-scanned in an effort to include the distinct features of each facility, including the infamous high banks of BMS.

In a move that will surely please traditional fans, the iRacing visuals mimic other track features such as grandstands, signs and backgrounds.

The participation and commentary from NASCAR stars such as Clint Bowyer and eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin was perhaps the more interesting part of Sunday’s virtual visit to sunny Florida.

Welcome to the new era of sports. Bring your imagination, grill your own hot dogs and enjoy the simulated shows.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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