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Preview: eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, Bristol Dirt Race

What’s better than a sequel?

The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series returns for its second season Wednesday evening, kicking off with a brand-new challenge: the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track. Just four days before the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series take the green flag in the first-ever Bristol Dirt Race, the drivers will compete in a virtual exhibition race using iRacing, with television coverage on FS1.

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About the iRacing Pro Invitational Series

The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is a 10-race series of just-for-fun esports events featuring some of NASCAR’s brightest stars and most popular drivers.

The well-received series was created last year after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak as NASCAR looked for alternative forms of racing. Seven races were held between March and May, until NASCAR returned to the track on May 17 at Darlington Raceway.

Drivers from multiple NASCAR circuits competed in the events, which were televised by FOX Sports and featured the familiar voices of commentators Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds. Competition was fierce — but fun — and race winners included Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Alex Bowman and Timmy Hill.

Now, a year later, the iRacing Pro Invitational Series returns for 2021, offering fans — and drivers — a first, mid-week look at new stops on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, like Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and, of course, the Bristol Dirt Race.

What to expect

It’s hard to predict what might happen in the iRacing Pro Invitational Series’ return.

Last year, the series helped spawn the now-classic on-air banter between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer and also shine a spotlight on sim-enthusiast drivers like Byron, Hill and Garrett Smithley. And longtime iRacer Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he’ll return to the series.

The drivers have zero laps of experience on the real-world dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway; their first laps in competition happen on iRacing. (Keep an eye out, fantasy fans!) Last year’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series featured no dirt racing, and the Bristol dirt track was just released to iRacing members earlier this month.

In other words, it’s anybody’s race.

Race format

Last week, the format for the iRacing Pro Invitational Series season opener was announced.

Drivers will have a two-hour open-practice window to get a feel for the track. FS1’s live coverage will begin at 6 p.m. ET with check-ins on the session throughout its programming.

After practice, drivers will complete a two-lap qualifying session around 7:50 p.m. ET. That qualifying session will determine the starting order for three 20-lap heat races, which begin at 8 p.m. ET.

From the three heats, seven drivers will advance from each race to make up the feature field of 21. The 70-lap feature event is scheduled to roll off at 8:40 p.m. ET.

Drivers competing in the feature event will have two damage-repair resets available to use if necessary. (No, those aren’t available Sunday.)

How to watch

Coverage of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at the virtual, dirt Bristol Motor Speedway begins at 6 p.m. ET on FS1. Heat races begin at 8 p.m. ET.