William Byron earned victory in Sunday’s Food City Showdown presented by M&M’s for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.
For the second week in a row, the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet dominated in the virtual racing series that is following the NASCAR Cup Series schedule that has been paused due the COVID-19 pandemic. But this time, Byron was able to pull away from John Hunter Nemechek and Matt DiBenedetto during a restart with four laps to go and drive away with the win after leading 116 laps in the race.
After leading the first 73 laps, Byron took the lead back from Chris Buescher with 43 laps remaining and never looked back. Buescher obtained the lead after using pit strategy to find the front.
“It was a lot of fun,” Byron told FOX Sports following the race. “We had to work through some track position and really keep ourselves up toward the top five. This one of the race tracks I always enjoy coming to in the Cup car. … It’s fun to have a little bit of pressure on a race in iRacing.”
Byron, who lost last weekend in the virtual race at Texas Motor Speedway after a bump-and-run move late by Timmy Hill, said winning the following weekend made the victory a little sweeter.
“I mean, obviously when the race is going, I think anybody would be dumb to tell you that they don’t take it seriously because it’s a race, but it took me probably an hour after the race to really cool off and realize that I was just racing on the computer and I could get over it,” Byron said. “For me mentally, I try to treat it as a race when the race is going on. But I think that it was just frustrating because we hadn’t closed one out yet and we had led the most laps, so to finally close the deal this week was really awesome.”
Nemechek finished second, the same place he started, while Hill, last Sunday’s winner at Texas, finished third. Homestead-Miami Speedway winner Denny Hamlin earned a fourth-place result, while DiBenedetto rounded out the top five.
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The race had a total of 12 cautions, as the particularly challenging virtual Bristol Motor Speedway stumped several of the drivers who have seen success at the real venue, including brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, who have combined for 14 Cup Series wins at the track. Kyle finished 18th after bringing out the final caution of the day following contact with Ryan Preece near the front of the field, and Kurt was 19th.
Chase Elliott’s day ended prior to Lap 50 when his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet turned over in Turn 3 after heavy contact with Ty Dillon’s No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet.
The most eventful caution of the day occurred when Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez got together coming out of Turn 4 at the halfway point of the race. After the caution flew, Larson intentionally wrecked Suarez in Turn 1. For the second week in a row, Suarez was removed from the race by iRacing officials due to the nature of the incident. Larson was also removed from the race. Bubba Wallace disconnected early on following an on-track incident.
Byron earned the Busch Pole Award after winning the first of two heats prior to Sunday’s 150-lap race at the .533-mile concrete oval, starting alongside Nemechek on the front row who was the winner of the second heat. NASCAR Cup Series drivers qualified to set the lineup for the pair of heat events, with the first heat setting the inside lane, while the second heat set the outside lane.
The win was particularly meaningful for Byron, who used iRacing to get his foot in the door in real-world racing, as it puts him one victory shy of 1,500 iRacing wins. His prowess behind the wheel in the computer-based racing helped him work his way up through the development levels before landing a full time NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series ride in 2016.
Byron still uses it to fine-tune his racing skills.
“I try to use iRacing because it improves my race craft, and I feel like we’ve been doing a good job of promoting it the right way. The races that you can practice on kind of help improve my race craft, and that’s why I use it to try to help me on the real car.”
Byron joins Denny Hamlin (Homestead-Miami) and Timmy Hill (Texas) as the third different winner in the three Pro Invitational Series races held so far.
Contributing: NASCAR Wire Service