Denny Hamlin concluded the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series the same way he started it — with a victory.
Hamlin bulled his way into the lead with nine laps to go on Saturday en route to winning the 160-lap race at virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina.
Hamlin won the series opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 22, and he captured the finale of the seven-race series despite leading for just 24 laps around the .625-mile oval.
“I knew we had the fastest car, it was just getting through traffic,” Hamlin told FOX afterwards. “We got into an early incident, had to use the (reset) right off the bat, so that wasn’t advantageous for us but we were able to methodically make our way back up to the front.”
Timmy Hill finished second, 0.914 seconds back of Hamlin. Rookie Tyler Reddick was third with Ross Chastain and Austin Dillon rounding out the top five.
Chastain was in the lead with nine laps to go before Hamlin used his Toyota to push Chastain’s Ford out of the way.
Chastain attempted to block Hamlin but the latter pushed his right fender into the left rear of Chastain to create the distance he needed to move into the lead.
“We were two guys going for the same spot,” Hamlin said of the situation. “I got a good run on him off Turn 2 and as soon as he saw I was going low, he pulled down the straightaway to try and block and we both just let off the gas at the same time.”
Hamlin led the remainder of the way to end an eventful series of virtual races that included a last-place finish in the GEICO 70 on April 26 after his 7-year-old daughter, Taylor, accidentally powered off his racing monitor.
Actual NASCAR racing revs back up on May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, and Hamlin envisions a tentative start before drivers regain their comfort zones.
“There’s nothing that’s going to sidetrack us on race day,” Hamlin, a member of Joe Gibbs Racing, said in a post-race teleconference. “I envision that people are going to be pretty timid, at least for the first few laps. ... There’s plenty of times where these teams unload, cars are hitting the track and you’re not ready to be in a pack. We do have data from last year so I think everyone is going to be very confident going into turn one.
“All in all, it’s going to be like an old shoe. From a fan’s (television) perspective, I don’t think it will be any different.”
Hill also is looking forward to getting his Toyota back on a race track.
“Well, it’s been a fun experience, we had the best average and capped the finish off finishing second at North Wilkesboro,” Hill said. “We can’t wait to get back to racing at Darlington next week. I’ve really enjoyed what this was but can’t wait to get back to driving what we normally do.”
As for the North Wilkesboro race, Garrett Smithley finished sixth and Brennan Poole was seventh. Parker Kligerman, Kevin Harvick and Landon Cassill rounded out the top 10.
Christopher Bell led a race-high 61 laps but finished in 14th place.
William Byron, who won three of the first six races, didn’t compete.
Full results of Sunday’s race for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at North Wilkesboro Speedway, with finish, car number, driver, car and laps completed:
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 160.
2. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 160.
3. (31) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 160.
4. (6) Ross Chastain, Ford, 160.
5. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 160.
6. (51) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 160.
7. (15) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 160.
8. (77) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 160.
9. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 160.
10. (89) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 160.
11. (52) JJ Yeley, Ford, 160.
12. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 160.
13. (21) Jon Wood, Ford, 160.
14. (95) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 160.
15. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 160.
16. (41) Cole Custer, Ford, 160.
17. (53) Joey Gase, Ford, 160.
18. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 160.
19. (018) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 160.
20. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 160.
21. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 155.
22. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 150.
23. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 147.
24. (38) John Hunter Nemechek, Ford, 139.
25. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 133.
26. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 103.
27. (37) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 99.
28. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 92.
29. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 84.
Average Lap: 25.653 seconds
Caution Flags: 8 for 53 laps
Leaders / Lead Changes: 5 / 7
—Field Level Media