NASCAR racers switch to esports to compete amidst COVID-19
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While many favorite gaming and sporting events are canceled, sports fans may have found their new savior in NASCAR. This past weekend, NASCAR drivers from across the sport’s history raced in Formula 1’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series event. Even better, viewers loved it.

Fans got to watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. and William Byron race against 38 other drivers in The Replacement 500 Sunday afternoon. Other prominent NASCAR personalities like Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds cast the event, much like a real race. NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer assisted with a virtual “in-car” commentary for the race.

Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin took the win for the first eNASCAR event. In a tweet, surrounded by friends and family, Hamlin coasts into first place. Strapped into an impressive rig, complete with three monitors, cage, and wheel, fans got a glimpse into the world of professional virtual racing.

Almost a million people watched the event, making it one of Sunday’s most-watched TV programs. On Twitch, the race peaked at 23,000 concurrent viewers, with more than 70,000 unique viewers throughout the race. It did so well that FOX Sports will be airing the rest of the season live on the FOX network, as well as the FS1 and FOX Sports apps.

Brad Zager, FOX Sports’ Executive Producer, said in a statement, “This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way.”

“We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”

Is the future of sports in esports?

Interestingly, the race took place in the PC game iRacing, a subscription-based racing simulator published by Motorsport Simulations. The last NASCAR racing game released in 2019, NASCAR Heat 4, was developed by Monster Games.

As more sporting events are facing cancelation due to the current global climate, moving to esports makes sense. Players won’t have to be close enough to interact, and they can still draw thousands of viewers. It’s only a matter of time before more sports organizations move to games as a way to keep people watching their favorite events.

The next race will take place March 29 at 1 p.m. EDT and will be on the Texas Motor Speedway. The track players will be racing on is the same one that drivers were scheduled to race on in real life.

Is the world ready for NASCAR esports? Let us know in the comments below if you’re going to be tuning in to watch the next race. Make sure to follow Daily Esports as the world of esports grows.

Ryan Hay is a writer and content creator currently living in New York. Video games, anime, and Magic: The Gathering have all been strong passions in his life and being able to share those passions with others is his motivation for writing. You can find him on Twitter where he complains about losing on MTG Arena a lot.