The 27-year-old from Maryland won Sunday’s NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series O’Reilly 125 at virtual Texas Motor Speedway, an event broadcast live on Fox.
That has been a positive for the NASCAR drivers on simulators. The shutdown of live racing because of the coronavirus outbreak has given guys who have been journeyman drivers in underfunded equipment in the real Cup Series the opportunity to showcase their skills in the virtual racing format.
“For me personally, what I’ll gain from this is recognition,” Hill said. “It’s hard to get that recognition because of the level of competition we are in real life. Frankly, we don’t have the money, the dollars to compete at a high level.
“Every once in a while you’ll see us exceed normal expectations. But most weekends we got to do the best with the dollars we have. This win will hopefully gain some recognition and attract more sponsors in the real work because they know Timmy Hill from iRacing, from Fox, from this invitational.”
The racing is not exactly the same. As Clint Bowyer noted, there isn’t the seat-of-the-pants feel of an actual race car. Still, Hill and others see it as a chance to compete in “equal equipment” and in some ways actually have the advantage.
In this world, roles have been reversed. Hill is a 12-year iRacing veteran whose win Sunday marked his 674th in 1,677 career starts. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is a true rookie; Sunday was just his second NASCAR iRacing start.
“The iRacing platform, it’s kind of an equalizer in effect that the cars that we’re driving on there, I’m in the same cars as everybody,” Hill said. “Most weekends, I’m not in that situation. I’m in a situation where I’m racing on 15-lap tires, have a motor that’s down on horsepower, got a car that’s probably 5 years old. I’m really behind the 8-ball as soon as we show up at the racetrack at times.
“To come into the server where everybody has the same cars, in this case even the same setup, everybody is on the same exact playing field, basically the driver conquers all in this situation.”
The top-three finishers Sunday were Hill, Ryan Preece and Garrett Smithley.
In terms of actual racing, Preece is the most accomplished. He is a former NASCAR Modified Series champion and a winner in both the Modified and Xfinity series at Bristol Motor Speedway, which the Pro Invitational Series visits next.
Smithley, who was criticized by Kyle Busch for being in the way during this season’s Cup Series race Las Vegas, has outperformed the defending NASCAR champion in virtual racing.
Hill, whose best finish in 96 career Cup starts is 14th at Indianapolis, is grateful that NASCAR and Fox Sports have given him and others a chance to demonstrate both their talents and their personalities.
“I’m glad that this happened because it’s a great way to showcase a lot of guys who maybe don’t get the recognition,” Hill said. “Garrett Smithley has done a good job. Ryan Preece finished second today. A lot of guys who don’t get as much TV time or talked about, it’s a fun way for fans to kind of learn more about them.
“I think when we actually go back racing, fans will interact with us more. I think the whole sport will be positively affected because of it.”
BRISTOL UP NEXT
The length of the upcoming NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway is expected to be announced in the next couple of days.
For BMS officials, the event offers a bonus in a couple of ways. Not only does the actual racetrack benefit by being highlighted, an important sponsor — Food City — also receives extra media exposure. Food City has been the sponsor of the Bristol spring race since 1992.
No different from normal, the Bristol event is the most anticipated of the virtual races so far. It brings an extra sense of intrigue, seeing if the guys who normally run well at Bristol — like a Kyle Busch or Kyle Larson — will run up front. Or will it be one of the guys more experienced on the iRacing format?
How about William Byron, whom Hill bumped out of the way to win at Texas? Will Byron use Bristol’s short track to get his revenge and do the same to Hill?
THUNDER VALLEY CHANGE
The NHRA announced a revised schedule for this season. The Gatornationals at Gainesville Dragway in Florida on June 5-7 now is tentatively scheduled as the first event back.
The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals remains set for Father’s Day weekend, June 19-21, at Bristol Dragway, although the Mello Yello drag racing portion of the event will be Saturday and Sunday only.
That takes away the always-popular Friday night qualifying session.
More about the updated schedule at Thunder Valley is expected in the coming days.
Email Jeff Birchfield at [email protected]