Denny Hamlin bookended the iRacing Pro Invitational Series with wins after he took the checkered flag at virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Hamlin restarted fifth – the first with four tires after a pit stop under the second to last caution – with 26 to go and then got by Ross Chastain with eight laps remaining and went on to score his second win of the season.
“We’ve had a thing over the last few years of winning very, very important races: The Daytona 500, the elimination race at Phoenix last year to get in the final four, then Daytona 500 this year, then the two virtual wins, the first one and the last one,” Hamlin said. “Those are the two you probably want to win in those circumstances.
“Pretty awesome to be able to have success and be competitive and race for wins, whether it be in real life or virtual.”
Hamlin made some contact with Chastain, who was one of the drivers on two tires, that pushed him up the track in Turn 3.
“I got a good run on him,” Hamlin said. “He saw I was going to be inside. Obviously he did his best to try to block there. As you could see, when I got into the back of him, I immediately checked up to try to let him catch it.”
Chastain led 31 laps and after the race ended turned Hamlin on the cool down lap.
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Hamlin’s win came in the seventh and final Pro Invitational race before NASCAR returns to action next Sunday at Darlington Raceway. Hamlin, who won the first race on March 22 at virtual Homestead-Miami, posted an 11.6 average finish in the series.
“It was fun to see the progression of the guys who had been doing it quite a bit, and you’ve also got the guys that are just starting it for the first time, have zero starts before the Invitational,” Hamlin said. “To watch them get better and better, and to watch the commitment that they all put in to get better.”
Timmy Hill finished second on two tires to lower his series-best average finish to 3.6.
Tyler Reddick, Chastain, Austin Dillon each recorded their best finish of the season to round out the top-five finishers.
Garrett Smithley, Brennan Poole, Parker Kligerman, Kevin Harvick and Landon Cassill completed the top 10.
Along with Hill and Chastain, Cassill also took two tires on the last stop. Corey LaJoie had a good run going, but under the seventh of eight caution flags the brake pedal on his sim setup broke. He finished 25th.
The 160-lap race was the debut of North Wilkesboro on the online racing simulation service, which will debut to the public in an upcoming update. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 15th, led a team to get the track cleaned up back in December so iRacing could scan it.