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NASCAR has formed a new iRacing invitational series with star drivers, an idea to help fans pass the time as the sport takes months off due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Starting this Sunday, iRacing will put on an event with drivers from all three of NASCAR’s national series, including reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, along with Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, and the semi-retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. It will be called the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and run for multiple weeks.
The first virtual race Sunday will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where NASCAR was set to race this weekend in real life before its season was suspended until early May by the virus.
NASCAR has not yet revealed broadcast details for the event, but Fox Sports was in talks over the past week about possibly airing the event. The status of those talks is not currently known, but even if the race just airs digitally, it figures to smash iRacing’s previous digital viewership record, which was set last Sunday in a similar event that was put on by some members of the NASCAR industry and peaked around 23.7K viewers on Twitch.
NASCAR has been stepping up its efforts to get into the esports space over the last two years, but the suspension of real-life racing has thrust those efforts into the fore now more than ever. Other motorsports series and drivers are also undertaking similar plans; an iRacing event put on by digital outlet The Race on Sunday peaked at more than 50K viewers on Twitch and included drivers from Formula 1 in Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, plus some drivers from IndyCar including last year’s Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.
NASCAR’s main, annual simulator racing series with iRacing, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, also saw some viewership gains last night for its regular event, though it has a much smaller base. Viewership for those events typically average between 1K to 2K people on Twitch, while last night the event peaked at 5K on Twitch.
Adam Stern is a staff writer for Sports Business Journal.
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