Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Texas Motor Speedway saw a gigantic entry list with a whopping sixty-five drivers vying for thirty-five spots. With the world still in quarantine and interest in the sim racing league increasing, NASCAR has decided to sort out the rising list of entrants for the series’ upcoming round at Bristol Motor Speedway. On Wednesday, NASCAR announced the Bristol race weekend will now include heat races and a special Saturday night event for non-Cup Series drivers.
Under the Pro Invitational Series rules, full-time Cup Series drivers are automatically locked into the race, with lower series drivers having to race their ways in via Last Chance Qualifier. However, various racers who are also full-time Cup competitors like J.J. Yeley and Brennan Poole were still ordered to run the LCQ at Texas.
To give the feeder-level drivers their racing excitement, NASCAR created the Saturday Night Thunder event. Taking a page out of Saturday-night short track racing, the race will consist of drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck, ARCA Menards, PEAK Mexico, and Whelen Euro Series, all of whom will race ARCA cars around Bristol.
The Sunday PIS race—officially known as the Food City Showdown—will have its starting lineup determined by two heat races. Every driver in the heat is locked into the race, though Saturday Night Thunder drivers will not run the Showdown.
Incidentally, this is not the first time NASCAR has run heat races at Bristol. In 2016, the Xfinity Series utilised the qualifying race format as part of its Dash 4 Cash programme (which Bristol’s spring race weekend was a part of). However, the experiment failed to provide much in the way of lead changes as pole sitters Erik Jones and Austin Dillon led all fifty laps of their respective heats; Jones’ race saw the top five finish in their same starting positions. The concept was shelved after one year as NASCAR introduced stage racing in 2017.
Corey LaJoie, a full-time Cup driver, tweeted at his fans to retweet if they wanted him to run Saturday Night Thunder.
Although NASCAR is not officially keeping track of the Pro Invitational standings, Texas race winner Timmy Hill currently leads the points after two races.