By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The iRacing ace reigned supreme once more as William Byron scored his third eNASCAR/iRacing Pro Invitational Series victory in Sunday’s Finish Line 150 at virtual Dover International Speedway, leading 79 of 150 laps.
Not only the master of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE continued his dominance, he also extended Hendrick Motorsports’ win streak to four with Byron taking three of those.
Byron’s race winning move took place with 7 laps remaining when he poke down to the bottom to get by Timmy Hill in Turn 3. No contact as people would’ve imagined, but Byron flat out passed him for the lead as he had four fresh tires compared to Hill’s two tire strategy.
Two laps later, Hill would lose the runner-up spot to Christopher Bell, who had his greatest eNASCAR performance to date, but just couldn’t match the pace Byron had as he lost the 150-lap race by 0.300 seconds.
Behind Hill, two more driver had their best iRacing runs which were Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones and Front Row Motorsports veteran Michael McDowell.
Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, last Sunday’s Talladega winner Alex Bowman, Garrett Smithley and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-10.
Byron knew that he would have to hustle on those fresh tires and make some moves on the final restart on Lap 141. Once he took care of business, it was all about chasing Hill down.
“We had to go on that restart. We had four tires and unfortunately the strategy made us to where we kind of knew we were going to be at the back of the pack on that last restart. It was all about getting clear,” said Byron. “Once we got to Timmy, I knew we had better stuff and just had to work him over for a couple of corners, but it was fun.”
Following the race, a pretty frustrated Hill analyzed the restart during his live Twitch stream. The Texas winner felt that Byron, who restarted in fifth, boosted his chances of winning after laying off from Landon Cassill to get an excellent run and take the bottom groove.
Consequently, Byron’s game plan came with a price as he turned Cassill going into Turn 1. It caused Cassill to go up the track and collected pole sitter Ross Chastain and others, but the caution never came out.
“(William) timed his run out. Basically, he laid off of Landon and built up a run, and had the momentum on him,” said Hill. “He drops low before the start/finish line and I think that’s where the frustration comes from and then he just wiped those guys out.”
While not necessarily pleased about Byron catching him, there’s still a smile on his face as he continues his strong consistency in the Pro Invitational Series with just one more race left.
“It was a fun race. We almost won it and had a lot of fun. I felt like if I just had a couple of laps that took two tires with me behind me and holding Byron back just a little bit, I may have a shot of winning this thing but that didn’t happened,” Hill added. “They got wiped out on the restart and it left Byron an open track to just run me down. That stinks, but man I had a lot of fun. Another top-three, so I can’t be mad about that.”
The last race will take place at a venue the NASCAR Cup Series last raced in 1996. That venue was other than North Wilkesboro Speedway with live coverage of the historic 0.625-mile circuit’s iRacing premiere airing Saturday, May 9 on FOX (3:00 pm EST).
Among the 36 drivers that competed in Sunday’s race at virtual Dover, only Bobby Labonte has raced the historic North Carolina circuit located at Wilkes County.
As for Hill, his brother Tyler Hill, raced there in the Allison Legacy cars and hopes that Jeff Gordon, the driver who won the last race at North Wilkesboro, competes in that race where drivers will bring out their throwback cars.
Gordon hinted a possible second Pro Invitational Series start during the FOX telecast.
“I said Talladega was the only race I was going to do on iRacing. I don’t know,” Gordon’s response after Mike Joy officially announced the event. “That news is exciting. I may, I may have to come back for North Wilkesboro. I mean come on, I won the last race there. I must know something about that place.”
After virtual North Wilkesboro, real world NASCAR racing resumes at Darlington Raceway May 17. It’ll kick off a four-race series in a span of 11 days which Byron is prepared to head back into his real life machine, but he has enjoyed the seating time and success over the past several weeks.
“I’ve enjoyed this iRacing series that we’ve had going but definitely ready to get back in my normal car as well,” said Byron. “This has taught me a lot in the last weeks, so it’s been fun.”
eNASCAR/iRacing Pro Invitational Series Race – Finish Line 150
Virtual Dover International Speedway
Sunday, May 3, 2020
1. (8) William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet, 150.
2. (11) Christopher Bell, No. 95 Toyota, 150.
3. (7) Timmy Hill, No. 66 Toyota, 150.
4. (31) Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota, 150.
5. (20) Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford, 150.
6. (10) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, 150.
7. (32) Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford, 150.
8. (35) Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet, 150.
9. (2) Garrett Smithley, No. 51 Chevrolet, 150.
10. (27) Aric Almirola, No. 10 Ford, 150.
11. (28) Brennan Poole, No. 15 Chevrolet, 150.
12. (36) Cole Custer, No. 41 Ford, 150.
13. (14) Bobby Labonte, No. 19 Toyota, 150.
14. (15) Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, 150.
15. (22) Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, 150.
16. (30) Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chevrolet, 150.
17. (1) Ross Chastain, No. 6 Ford, 149.
18. (18) Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Ford, 148.
19. (28) JJ Yeley, No. 52 Ford, 148.
20. (5) Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford, 147.
21. (6) Landon Cassill, No. 89 Chevrolet, 147.
22. (17) Chad Finchum, No. 49 Toyota, 143.
23. (16) Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, 142.
24. (24) Joey Gase, No. 53 Ford, 142.
25. (34) Tyler Reddick, No. 31 Chevrolet, 140.
26. (4) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, 136.
27. (9) John Hunter Nemechek, No. 38 Ford, 133.
28. (19) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, 124.
29. (12) Daniel Suarez, No. 96 Toyota, 116.
30. (12) Daniel Suarez, No. 96 Toyota, 116.
31. (29) Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, 114.
32. (25) Ty Dillon, No. 13 Chevrolet, 99.
33. (13) Brad Keselowski, No. 13 Chevrolet, 85.
34. (3) Parker Kligerman, No. 77 Toyota, 79.
35. (23) Chris Buescher, No. 17 Ford, 78.
36. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Ford, 52.