By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The man who began his racing career in iRacing does it again. William Byron scores his second straight eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series Invitational victory in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 150 at virtual Richmond Raceway, beating his season foe Timmy Hill after a strong restart in overtime.
After what can be considered a very dark week for NASCAR due to Kyle Larson’s indefinite suspension, the race-extending 154-lap contest that was far better in race quality served everyone a reminder that the show must go on and that was the case for Byron, who was triumphant on two older tires.
“I was really concerned that we were going to have two older tires there on that restart,” said Byron, who led a race-high 94 of 154 laps.
“We were able to get good exits off the corner and just have a pretty decent restart to get the win.”
For much of the first half, the road to victory appeared to favor pole sitter Ryan Preece, who was the class of the field in the first 59 laps. That would all change on Lap 60 when Byron took command after going low into Turn 3 and there was no looking back for the man piloting the black and gold No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
As for Preece, he drastically regressed for the remainder of the race that would take a turn for the worst on Lap 98. In what would be the most controversial moment of the race began to unfold when he got turned by Matt DiBenedetto in Turn 1.
This would boil over once the race resumed on Lap 104 as those two got upset with each other with DiBenedetto getting turned into the Turn 1 wall.
No caution came out, but the Wood Brothers driver made it clear that he wasn’t having it anymore and retaliated Preece 10 laps after the race resumed.
iRacing officials had enough of this chagrin and disqualified DiBenedetto. Following his 27th place exit, DiBenedetto described the incident on Twitter as “He did it to me, so he can screw off.”
This was due in most part after DiBenedetto felt Preece cut onto him which caused the Lap 98 incident. Only for Preece to take him out due to “his screw up.” The pole sitter would end up with a gut punching 19th after the whole ordeal.
Yep. This is the business they don’t show. pic.twitter.com/Suz68ei6lM
— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) April 19, 2020
This caution proved to be a turning point of the race for Byron, who decided that 10 green flag laps didn’t warrant him to pit for four fresh tires, so he stayed out while nearly the entire field pitted. It proved to be a non-issue for the 22-year-old as strong restarts on the bottom and steadily pulling away on long green flag runs proved he had the best overall fixed setup.
Only the Lap 147 caution after a crash involving Christopher Bell, who had a solid top-10 performance up for the majority of the race, got in Byron’s way. Thus, the race went into overtime for the second time in Pro Invitational Series history.
The previous OT race came at Texas Motor Speedway where Byron’s sim racing nemesis Hill won the event after bumping him out of the way and ultimately settled for seventh.
The angle wrote itself and when the race went back to green for the final time, it was a no contest.
Byron’s “decent” restart proved to be monstrous as he quickly cleared Hill and went on to win at the virtual 0.75-mile circuit by 0.256 seconds and became the first repeat winner in the Pro Invitational Series.
Was Texas on Byron’s mind? “Oh absolutely,” Byron exclaimed.
All credit went to his iRacing crew chief and eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver Nick Ottinger, who constantly bumped his boss multiple times throughout the week in preparation for Richmond.
“He actually worked on just beating my back bumper off,” Byron on his eSports driver. “So, I was prepared to hold the brake when (Timmy) got here, but better than I was at Texas and it worked out. Timmy race me really clean and does real good.”
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) April 19, 2020
Parker Kligerman finished in third, hoping that some drama would happen between Byron and Hill, saying twice “wreck each other” on his Twitch stream. However, the NBC Sports analyst and iRacing veteran didn’t got his wish as Hill played “nice” and commented on the cool down lap that he “could’ve nudged him” to help his cause.
While plenty of banter went on, Byron did some burnouts and described how this current time period has had him reflecting on his journey towards NASCAR stardom.
“Driving the No. 24 car in real-life for Hendrick Motorsports is a dream. I mean, it’s incredible,” said Byron. “I was really just the kid on (iRacing) that was excited to see a NASCAR face in a channel when I was racing against them.
“Now to be racing in real-life and everything kind of come full circle during this tough time is neat too. I’m having fun with it.”
Landon Cassill finished fourth after being one of four drivers (the others being LCQ winner Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Daniel Suarez) that made the 30-car field after running a non-televised qualifying race Sunday morning.
A day removed from running the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge at virtual Twin Ring Motegi, Kyle Busch was the best of the Joe Gibbs Racing bunch after having his finest eNASCAR race to date by coming from the 27th starting position to score a fifth-place result.
Behind Busch were his teammates Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones. Followed by Dale Jr., Bubba Wallace and Brad Keselowski to round out the top-10.
Next Sunday’s Pro Invitational Series race will be a game changer as the fifth race will be at the virtual 2.66-mile circuit known as Talladega Superspeedway.
For the race commencing April 26, drivers who ran in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2019 along with iRacing inviting certain drivers will partake in the madness. The number of cars allowed to compete will be announced later this week as live coverage begins at 1:00 pm EST on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
eNASCAR/iRacing Pro Invitational Series Race – Toyota Owners 150
Virtual Richmond Raceway
Sunday, April 19, 2020
1. (3) William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet, 154.
2. (5) Timmy Hill, No. 66 Toyota, 154.
3. (10) Parker Kligerman, No. 77 Toyota, 154.
4. (2) Landon Cassill, No. 89 Chevrolet, 154.
5. (27) Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, 154.
6. (13) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, 154.
7. (24) Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota, 154
8. (4) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, 154.
9. (28) Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet, 154.
10. (9) Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, 154.
11. (23) Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet, 154.
12. (20) Tyler Reddick, No. 31 Chevrolet, 154.
13. (19) Ross Chastain, No. 6 Ford, 154.
14. (21) Bobby Labonte, No. 19 Toyota, 154.
15. (26) Ty Dillon, No. 13 Chevrolet, 154.
16. (12) John Hunter Nemechek, No. 38 Ford, 154.
17. (11) Garrett Smithley, No. 51 Chevrolet, 154.
18. (6) Daniel Suarez, No. 96 Toyota, 154.
19. (1) Ryan Preece, No. 37 Chevrolet, 154.
20. (16) Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chevrolet, 154.
21. (18) Chris Buescher, No. 17 Ford, 154.
22. (22) Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet, 148.
23. (15) Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford, 147.
24. (29) Christopher Bell, No. 95 Toyota, 145.
25. (14) Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, 135.
26. (25) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, 123.
27. (8) Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Ford, 112.
28. (7) Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, 101.
29. (17) Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Ford, 99.
30. (30) Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Ford, 57.
Did Not Qualify: Corey LaJoie, Joey Gase, Cole Custer, Michael McDowell, Chad Finchum, Brennan Poole, J.J. Yeley