The NASCAR Pro Invitational Series, a partnership with the online video game "iRacing," kicked off on Sunday when drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Alex Bowman put their driving skills to the test on a digital track. This race was broadcast on FS1 and was viewed as a major success after generating a 0.53 television rating and averaging 903,000 viewers. Now the racing organization is taking future races to even more stations.
Commentator Jeff Gordon posted on Instagram on Tuesday and revealed that the second race in the Pro Invitational Series will be aired on FOX, FS1, and on the FOX Sports app. The action will be available to an expanded array of viewers as NASCAR tries to fill the void left by the postponed season, which was caused by COVID-19 concerns. Additionally, Gordon confirmed that he and co-host Mike Joy would once again be on the call after covering the Dixie Vodka 150. Having the official FOX commentary team discussing the digital action provided an added level of authenticity for the fans as they watched Hamlin secure the victory.
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"I think it exceeded our expectations," said NASCAR managing director Scott Warfield, per the Boston Globe. "We all went into it flying the plane as we were building it and thinking nothing more than this would be a nice little distraction for 90 minutes on Sunday for people going through one heck of a time. I think it did all of those things, and then I think it did more."
The fans made it clear that they enjoyed the FS1 broadcast, especially with Gordon and Joy providing the call. Similarly, the drivers also had fun due to being able to interact with their fans on Twitter, eat snack foods midway through the race, and joke about giving their dogs control over the steering wheel so they can use the restroom.
With the Cup Series on hold until the coronavirus is no longer causing health and safety concerns, the plan is for the Pro Invitational Series to continue. The rest of the virtual season will be aired on FOX, FS1, and the FOX Sports app, starting with the March 29 race at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will begin at 1 p.m. and will provide Earnhardt with an opportunity to secure victory over his digital competition.
"Short term, we're going to do this as long as we're dark with the Cup Series, as long as the fans want it, and as long as the drivers and others are willing and able to participate. We know there's something here," Warfield said.
(Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)