Virtual Talladega might have been more entertaining than the real thing

Tribune Content Agency

Before the race even started, virtual Talladega was exciting. That’s because driver Ryan Newman joined the FOX Sports broadcast to announce that he intended to return to the driver’s seat when the NASCAR season resumes, which could be as soon as May 17.

Sunday saw another return to the driver’s seat — or driver’s rig, at least. Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon provided an additional highlight at the 74-lap event, which went into overtime after a caution was called with three laps remaining in regulation. Gordon’s status as a six-time winner at the real Talladega meant little at the virtual track. Gordon went airborne by Lap 11. He finished 38th.

It was Alex Bowman who finished in first place, marking the third win in a row for a Hendrick Motorsports driver. Bowman was followed by Corey LaJoie in second, and Ryan Preece in third place at the checkered flag. The drivers crossed just hundredths of a second apart.

“Really gotta thank Preece for pushing me,” Bowman said. “Cause that’s what made the difference at that point when you’re that lead car. It’s really the guy behind you making the difference.”

Ty Dillon was also in the mix running in first place during overtime, but he spun out following contact with LaJoie. Dillon finished 23rd.

“I felt like the bottom (line) wasn’t the place to be,” Bowman said. “So (I) kinda let Ty have the bottom on that restart and got up, and just tried to keep the run timed well.”

Bowman’s victory followed back-to-back wins by Hendrick teammate William Byron in the last two Pro Invitational races. Byron, who notched his 700th top-five iRacing finish with his last victory, started in last place for Sunday’s race. He still finished in sixth.

“I’m legitimately confused how this happened,” Bowman tweeted jokingly after spinning his virtual victory donuts. “Tbh i couldn’t have done it without @WilliamByron’s help. He finally gave me the cheat codes”

Bowman has been entertaining fans with his live Tweets during the virtual races since the Pro Invitational series kicked off on March 22. He has posted pictured of his dogs, Finn and Roscoe, sitting in his simulator seat and jokes about how they drive for his car.

He did not confirm to reporters whether Finn was in fact the one who clinched his iRacing win.

“I think I’m gonna leave it up to the imagination if it was me or the dog driving,” Bowman said.

iRacing veteran Garrett Smithley finished in fourth place, followed by Landon Cassill in fifth. Despite his second-to-last place finish, Gordon, along with his FOX Sports guest analyst Clint Bowyer, provided fun banter throughout the race.

“I love being a part of this,” Gordon said. “It was great to get back out there in the action, in the competition on the track, and had a blast.”

Bowyer finished 33rd of 39 drivers. Virtual Homestead-Miami winner and real Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin finished in last place. The driver offered an explanation in a video he posted to Twitter after the race. Hamlin said his seven-year-old daughter, Taylor, turned off his monitor mid-race.

“My daughter came in with a remote and essentially ended our day,” Hamlin said. “That’s something you just don’t hear everyday, folks.”


©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.