The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, introduced during the 2020 season pause last spring, is set to return on Wednesday night with a virtual event on Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt layout ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series‘ real-life Food City Dirt Race there on Sunday. Much of the thirty-eight drivers in the field are running the full Cup season, but one notable omission is Timmy Hill, who unofficially won the inaugural PIS championship. While these sim races generally do not have real-life ramifications, it does not appear to be the case for Hill case as his absence means no media coverage and potential sponsorship. In fact, it is likely that he and his MBM Motorsports team will have to abandon their full-time plans for the rest of the 2021 season as exposure and the resulting support have evapourated.
The thirty-eight drivers on the entry list is mostly the same as the real-life faces outside of some exceptions. Brad Keselowski and Cody Ware are not taking part and have been respectively replaced by Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric and team-mate Garrett Smithley in Team Penske‘s #2 and Rick Ware Racing‘s #51. Drivers-turned-announcers Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are taking part in the #79 Clint Bowyer Racing and #88 JR Motorsports cars, respectively.
With the exception of the broadcaster guest appearances, every car except for Ryan Preece‘s #37 of JTG Daugherty Racing has a charter in real life that guarantees them entry into every race. While Preece does not have a charter, he fills the void left by Kevin Harvick and his #4 Stewart-Haas Racing car choosing not to take part. Although Preece is a Chevrolet driver while Harvick races for Ford, the former will drive a Ford in two Camping World Truck Series races in June.
MBM’s #66 also does not possess a charter and is consequently excluded from the field despite having attempted every race in 2021. While Hill does not race for Cup points as he has declared for Xfinity points (where he also races for MBM), he ran the full 2020 schedule for the team and intended to do it again this year. Preece and Hill are the only non-chartered full-time Cup teams.
“Compete in every cup event the last 2 seasons and the only cup driver that was left out… stings a bit,” Hill tweeted.
During the maiden Pro Invitational season, Hill won at Texas Motor Speedway. Although standings were not tracked by NASCAR for the PIS, Hill would have mathematically been crowned the champion as he scored top-five finishes in all but one of the seven races.
MBM Motorsports is a small team that only has three Xfinity top tens in its seven-year history. As Hill is obviously not expected to be a regular contender on a weekly basis, much of his winning ways have instead come on iRacing and he is one of the top drivers on the platform. Despite being a virtual series, the PIS provided Hill with plentiful attention thanks to social media and exclusive coverage on Fox Sports, enabling him and MBM to garner sponsorship in real life.
However, barring any last-second changes, Hill’s exclusion eliminates the possibility of TV time. Speaking with Frontstretch, Hill explained the team had to “put (sponsorship) on hold, because we told them that we’ve really been left out of the loop on this deal, nobody [from NASCAR] will respond to us.
“I guess the reason is because they knew all along that they didn’t either want us in the series or knew that they weren’t gonna have us. Communication was really not there. It seems to be a common theme that we just kind of get left out.”
In the wake of the development, many took to social media to voice their displeasure and the hashtag #LetTimmyRace quickly circulated among fans and media. Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer questioned why Preece was allowed to compete yet Hill could not on a past winner’s provisional (similar to the real-life past champion’s provisional that lets champions run races they would not have otherwise qualified for), and called the situation a “really, really crummy oversight.”
“People wonder why I scream about relevance in our sport,” Xfinity racer Tommy Joe Martins tweeted. “The most attention Timmy & his sponsors ever got on a NASCAR stage was via @iRacing. He was legitimized to a lot of the drivers/reporters/industry. His omission is ridiculous, & he’s too nice a guy to call it the bs it is.”
On the /r/NASCAR subreddit, user /u/markdulerautosales made a post urging the community to vote Hill into July’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. Upon being auto-tweeted to the subreddit’s Twitter account, the campaign was quickly endorsed by Xfinity driver and fellow avid iRacer Landon Cassill as he changed his profile picture to one with “laser eyes until Timmy Hill gets the All Star Fan Vote”.
The Pro Invitational Series will consist of five races, all of which are Wednesday night ahead of major races in reality.
Bristol entry list
|00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing|
|1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske|
|3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing|
|5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports|
|6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing|
|7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports|
|8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing|
|9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports|
|10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske|
|14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|15||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing|
|17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing|
|18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing|
|22||Joey Logano||Team Penske|
|23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing|
|24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports|
|34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports|
|37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing|
|38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports|
|41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing|
|48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports|
|51||Garrett Smithley||Petty Ware Racing|
|52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing|
|53||Joey Gase||Rick Ware Racing|
|77||Justin Haley||Spire Motorsports|
|78||B.J. McLeod||Live Fast Motorsports|
|79||Clint Bowyer||Clint Bowyer Racing|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||JR Motorsports|
|99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team|