With the NASCAR season frozen by the COVID-19 pandemic, its drivers and other personnel had to get their racing fix through other means, one of which is iRacing. On Sunday, Podium eSports hosted the Replacements 100, an iRacing event featuring various NASCAR drivers and other major figures at Atlanta Motor Speedway (which would have held the real-life Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 that day had it not been postponed).
The 100-lap event saw a chaotic start with multiple wrecks. Through the drama of the first half and eventual green-flag stretch of the second, Josh Williams—who serves as Ryan Blaney‘s spotter as his day job—dominated from flag to flag en route to the victory.
The 35-driver field was a who’s who of names in the stock car racing world, including drivers from the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Under iRacing‘s progression ladder, the grid is filled of Class A licence drivers, which allows them to race Cup cars in the game.
At the Cup level, Hendrick Motorsports team-mates William Byron and Alex Bowman were joined by their crew chief Chad Knaus and spotter Kevin Hamlin, respectively. Fellow drivers Bubba Wallace and Garrett Smithley, along with non-drivers like Team Penske spotters Williams, Coleman Pressley (Brad Keselowski), and T.J. Majors (Joey Logano), Blaney’s engineer John Guidone, and Martin Truex Jr.‘s public relations representative Tyler Overstreet also competed.
Xfinity team JR Motorsports featured a variety of personnel with drivers Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, respectively the 2019 Most Popular Driver and 2020 season opener winner, and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jonathan Davis (Michael Annett‘s crew chief), K.C. Heschel (JRM public relations), and Steven Steffen (JRM liaison and Twitch streamer) were also present. Other Xfinity racers included 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 winner Justin Haley, Richard Childress Racing‘s #21 drivers Anthony Alfredo and Myatt Snider, and 2020 race winners Chase Briscoe and rookie Harrison Burton.
Tyler Ankrum, who won the series’ Rookie of the Year honours in 2019, represented the Truck drivers alongside Ben Rhodes. Rhodes’ crew chief Matt Noyce and truck chief Anthony Pelican joined their driver in the field. Parker Kligerman, who has raced part-time in the Trucks since 2016 and currently owns an iRacing team with fellow NBC analyst Jeff Burton, was also in the field.
Other names in the grid were sim racer Bryan Boris Cook, iRacing associate producer Kevin Iannarelli, Podium eSports’ Gary Sexton and John Theodore, ARCA Menards Series driver Taylor Gray, and modified racer and Martin’s cousin Tyler Treux. Outside of the traditional racing spectrum were country musician Tim Dugger and recently-retired NFL lineman Kyle Long, the latter of whom owns iRacing team MODE Motorsports.
With a qualifying time of 29.639, Byron won the pole ahead of Williams (29.684). Gragson and Long did not set qualifying times and started at the back.
The opening lap quickly saw Williams take the lead from Byron, followed by a wreck as Snider spun off turn two while racing Allgaier and hit the inside wall. Davis was also involved in a crash of his own after getting loose in turn two and overcorrecting, collecting Ankrum and Bowman. Gragson also exited the race without completing a lap.
The race resumed on lap seven with Williams pulling away as Kligerman fell back on the outside line. Kligerman eventually resettled in second as Byron battled with Majors for third. Byron took second as the race entered the ten-lap mark.
On lap 15, multiple drivers were caught in a wreck off lap two that saw Pressley make contact with Heschel, sending them sideways. Allgaier, Ankrum, Burton, Dugger, Earnhardt, and Truex were also involved. The leaders elected to pit under the caution, with Williams remaining at the top for the lap 20 restart.
After two laps under green, Sexton caught the grass in turn one and slid up the banking into the outside wall, while Rhodes suffered a similar fate into turn three.
A lap 26 restart was quickly aborted after Guidone collided with Knaus while exiting turn two, with Dugger and Bowman also taking damage. Another attempt at the green took place on lap 32 as Williams continued to lead. While Williams and second-placed Kligerman pulled away from the field, Byron worked with Majors in the draft.
On lap 42, Kligerman’s computer experienced a technical error that caused him hit the turn one wall from second in a manner similar to blowing a tyre in real life. Gray was able to squeeze by the sideways Kligerman on the outside. Kligerman later re-entered the race using iRacing‘s free reset function.
Yet another caution took place on the backstretch shortly after the restart on lap 47. Haley clipped Iannarelli, with Sexton, Gray, Heschel being caught in the carnage. A pair of spotters led the field to the lap 52 restart with Williams and Majors, though Byron pounced to catch up to Williams after a lap. With the chaos taking out the mid-pack, Long found himself in the top half of the field after starting at the back.
As Williams continued to lead and the race entered its longest green-flag run, Earnhardt began climbing through the field and eventually reached the top ten. Byron could not catch Williams as the spotter took the checkered flag by over two seconds.
Steffen finished third, followed by Majors, Kligerman, Overstreet, Smithley, Earnhardt, Wallace, and Smithley. Eighteen drivers finished on the lead lap with Pelican as the last unlapped driver.
“It was tough,” Williams said. “I was more prepared to run the long runs so I was trying to take care of my stuff a little bit but we never really got long runs the first half of the race, so you just had to defend pretty hard the first few laps until everybody got single file. […] Just try to defend the lead, and once we got ten or fifteen laps on our car, I was pretty comfortable with it.”
In response to the fan attention on the event, he added, “It’s awesome. A lot of us sim race all the time, so it’s fun to put that on here with Podium eSports and get everybody seeing what we do during the week a lot of the time. It’s good for everybody, get everybody some racing to watch. We’re out here for a couple of weeks.”
“[T]hanks for the push @BubbaWallace pretty cool seeing the fighter jet teeth behind me (briefly) and then proceeding to see the rear of the livery,” Long tweeted. The former Chicago Bears All-Pro guard finished seventeenth.
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