The words everyone has been waiting for since the middle of March finale came last week when NASCAR announced its plans to get back on track. When the Cup Series takes the green flag May 17 at Darlington Raceway, it will officially end an nine-week drought since NASCAR’s top series was supposed to be in action at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The sanctioning body promised an aggressive schedule when it returned and delivered when a slate that will see seven national tour races run over the course of 11 days. Those events run at Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway under an intense protocol of safety initiatives are expected to be followed by more dates through late May and early June at tracks all within close proximity to the sport’s Charlotte hub.
While those safety precautions necessitate races be run without fans, national television audiences on FOX and FS1 plus worldwide radio coverage on MRN and PRN will bring NASCAR to millions.
Since the hiatus, iRacing led by the NASCAR eRacing Pro Invitational Series have helped fill the void left from no live competition. That series, which comes to a close on Saturday at a virtual version of iconic North Wilkesboro Speedway, consistently drew television audiences of around one million. In fact five races were among the highest viewed eSports TV broadcasts of all time.
However now that the real thing is set to return, virtual racing will take a backseat. But by no means is it or should it go too far away.
The iRacing world has proven to be a very worthwhile element to the overall motorsports world. While the NASCAR Pro Invitational Series obviously struck the biggest chord and resonated to the point of generating recording eSports audiences, other iRacing events also created a great deal of exposure for the sport.
NASCAR.com: Coca-Cola iRacing Series
Those events that included IndyCar, World of Outlaws, IMSA, Formula One and a variety of short track racing disciplines kept the motorsports world in the spotlight for much of the last nine weeks. The detail and realism of what the iRacing simulators and subsequent competition created was light years ahead of what other sports tried to emulate, which boiled down to athletes simply playing baseball or basketball video games on television.
Hopefully the promotion and exposure iRacing garnered during the last couple of months will help the platform prosper, grow and find other opportunities to take center stage. How about a "Winter Heat" iRacing series to while away the time during a normal off-season for instance?
It’ll be great to have real-life NASCAR racing roaring back to life in a few days. But the computer generated world of motorsports has also earned a spot in the racing landscape for years to come.