Photo: Victor Vallee/Whiplash Media

Byron Wins Drama Filled Food City Showdown at Virtual Bristol

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Drivers beefing and rage quitting will define Sunday’s Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway as the 150-lap race marred by crashes left-and-right.

Once the smoke finally cleared, only one driver ended up with a smile and that was William Byron, who led 116 laps to claim the victory in the third race of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

His afternoon was so seamless that Byron’s only true pressure of the day came when he pitted for four fresh tires before the halfway point.

From there, the man who started his racing career on simulation racing made it look easy thanks to more cautions and just having a far better car with those tires.

This set the stage for the third and final lead change as Byron caught race leader Chris Buescher, who got the lead after turning Landon Cassill around earlier. The duo battled for the lead quite a bit and by the 107th lap, Byron regained the lead after passing Buescher on the bottom groove in Turn 3.

The third-year NASCAR Cup Series veteran would hold on to the lead and beat John Hunter Nemechek by 1.371 seconds. Thus putting Hendrick Motorsports on top of the virtual racing world.

Behind Byron and Nemechek were last Sunday’s winner Timmy Hill, inaugural series winner Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto to round out the top-five.

“I thought we had a pretty solid race. Obviously there was a lot to kind of decipher through and try to get through, but I thought we stayed up close to the front,” said Byron. “We had the one tire strategy call that got us back to the top 5 and then we just had to work through the top 5 methodically after that.

“Was really proud of how we kind of did things, and thankful for Nick Ottinger, who kind of helps me on my esports team, and Axalta for letting us run this cool paint scheme. It looks awesome. Hopefully we can it run it sometime in the real Cup car. I had a lot of fun.”

Byron’s iRacing victory proved to also be bittersweet after being bumped out of the way by Hill at virtual Texas, but he didn’t thought much of that bump-and-run because all was good between both parties a few days later.

He actually sent me a message on Twitter on Thursday, and I was like, hey, it’s all good,” Byron on Hill. “Granted, would I have raced him the same if he had been in front of me, for sure, because I kind of know the tone that he set with that move, but I wasn’t worried about it after, I guess, Sunday night around 7:00.”

Unfortunately, Byron’s win is more or less a footnote as it was overshadowed by 12 cautions for 66 laps with two notable incidents taking the spotlight.

The first one involved Bubba Wallace, who made his early exit after he ran into Clint Bowyer in Turn 4. This led Bowyer pushing Wallace into the backstretch wall with the former receiving the most damage in that Lap 11 exchange.

Bowyer continued on to finish 11th, but Wallace had enough and voluntarily called it a day to finish 32nd.

This totally didn’t bode well with his primary sponsor Blu-Emu, who cut ties with Wallace due to his poor attitude. Wallace’s antics would be far from the worst part of the 150-lap drama/crash fest.

Suarez dumping Larson, leading to both drivers afternoons cut short as iRacing officials disqualified them from the Food City Showdown (Photo: Victor Vallee/Whiplash Media)

Fast forward to Lap 72 when both Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez got disqualified from the event due to both wrecking each other multiple times.

Before the caution, Larson clipped Suarez at the end backstretch but ended up hitting the wall. Larson would hunt him down and collided in Turn 4, sending both around.

None too pleased, Larson made it more clear that he’s not going to tolerate Suarez’s driving and turned him around under caution. Moments later, roles were reversed as Suarez dumped Larson in Turn 1 and that’s when iRacing officials stepped in and kicked both drivers out of the main event.

It’s the second straight race Suarez was disqualified due to his driving behavior as last Sunday at virtual Texas, he tried to deliberately take out Ty Dillon which completely backfired.

Suarez tweeted that he was waiting for the officials to disqualify Larson as soon as the incident happened, which he described as Larson pushing him to the apron and made it clear if that happened in real life, Larson would rue his actions.

https://twitter.com/Daniel_SuarezG/status/1246875543435456512

Time will tell if any further action will be necessary for those three drivers but for now, it’s a pivotal win for Byron as the half-mile circuit hasn’t necessarily been kind to him in both simulation and in real-life.

With tremendous confidence, Byron hopes can translate into better results once the series resumes action whether it’s the rescheduled Food City 500 and/or the Bristol Night Race in September.

“I think that honestly in Bristol recently, I’ve tried to work on the way that I drive the track, and I feel like the first time that I went there in the real car,” said Byron. “Everything from iRacing translated really well, and I did well, but then when I got into the Cup car I was a little bit lost.  I worked on it a little bit this week, and I feel much better about it.  I’m kind of excited to go back there here soon.”

Prior to the 150-lap main event, there were two qualifying heat races to determine the official starting grid.

In Heat 1, Byron secured the pole position by dominating the 50-lap feature. It wasn’t uneventful behind him as the battle for the third starting spot became the main battle towards the very end.

Dale Jr. held it for just about the whole heat race until two laps to go. That’s when Christopher Bell rode the top groove and stuck with that line when he cleared by him at the entrance of Turn 4.

Byron felt the heat races wasn’t necessary, but still understood by having them got him more time to figure out how to navigate Bristol as he ran a combined total of 200 blistering laps Sunday.

“I think it could be a little shorter. The heat races, we probably didn’t really need those today. But I think that honestly it was good,” said Byron. “I definitely would be a fan of like at Bristol there, it’s obviously a 50-lap heat race and then a 150-lap race, that’s a long time.

“If we ran maybe 50 laps in a heat laps and then 80 laps in the race, that would be probably good, too. I think it’s just a factor of the fact that it’s Bristol and it’s going to be a shorter race if it goes green.”

Meanwhile in Heat 2, it was wild behind Nemechek, who started first in the second 50-lap feature. Most notably, Bowyer who had a “give a damn” mechanical problem after colliding with Bobby Labonte and later Timmy Hill in Turn 4.

Nemechek was on cruise control until the final two laps when Ryan Preece came out of nowhere to battle with him for the rights of starting second. The duo battled side-by-side and by just 0.006 seconds, Nemechek eked out Preece for the heat victory.

With the third race out of the way, they’ll go from “The Last Great Coliseum” to Richmond Raceway for the latest Pro Invitational Series race as live coverage will continue on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports app.

eNASCAR/iRacing Pro Invitational Series Race – Food City Showdown

Virtual Bristol Motor Speedway

Sunday, April 5, 2020

1. (1) William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet, 150.

2. (2) John Hunter Nemechek, No. 38 Ford, 150.

3. (10) Timmy Hill, No. 66 Toyota, 150.

4. (26) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, 150.

5. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21, Ford, 150.

6. (4) Ryan Preece, No. 37 Chevrolet, 150.

7. (11) Parker Kligerman, No. 77 Toyota, 150.

8. (13) Tyler Reddick, No. 31 Chevrolet, 150.

9. (14) Garrett Smithley, No. 51 Chevrolet, 150.

10. (9) Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford, 150.

11. (32) Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Ford, 150.

12. (3) Christopher Bell, No. 95 Toyota, 150.

13. (30) Bobby Labonte, No. 19 Toyota, 150.

14. (7) Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet, 150.

15. (24) Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, 150.

16. (20) Ross Chastain, No. 6 Ford, 150.

17. (15) Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, 150.

18. (6) Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, 150.

19. (17) Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chevrolet, 150.

20. (12) Landon Cassill, No. 89 Chevrolet, 150.

21. (25) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, 150.

22. (5) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, 150.

23. (28) Chris Buescher, No. 17 Ford, 146.

24. (22) Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, 141.

25. (18) Ty Dillon, No. 13 Chevrolet, 132.

26. (19) Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford, 126.

27. (23) Daniel Suarez, No. 96 Toyota, 72.

28. (29) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., No. 47 Chevrolet, 72.

29. (8) Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, 71.

30. (27) Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet, 31.

31. (31) Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota, 14.

32. (16) Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet, 9.

Margin of Victory: 1.371 seconds

Average Speed of Race Winner: 68.472 mph

Caution Flags: 12 for 66 laps

Lead Changes: 3 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders: William Byron 1-73, Landon Cassill 74-77, Chris Buescher 78-107, William Byron 108-150

Leaders Summary (Driver, Laps Led): William Byron 116, Chris Buescher 30, Landon Cassill 4

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.