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Hamlin closes out iRacing series with victory at North Wilkesboro

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin closed NASCAR’s iRacing Series with a victory at a simulation of throwback North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The Daytona 500 winner was instrumental in organizing his fellow Cup drivers for the invitational series that started after the series was suspended. Hamlin, who races barefoot on a top-of-the-line simulator, won the opening iRacing event on March 22.

He also gained national attention three races ago at virtual Talladega Superspeedway when his daughter, Taylor, tried to ask him a question during the race and accidentally turned off the screen on his simulator with a remote control she was holding.

“I’ve had some very interesting things happen, for sure. To see Taylor’s shenanigans reaching huge media outlets in L.A., here, everywhere, on TMZ. That’s good. Even though I’m (mad) because my day is over, I wouldn’t have traded that moment for anything. I would take that moment and keep it versus winning Talladeg,” Hamlin said. “It’s just a life moment that, hey, even though we didn’t win, it didn’t turn out well results‑wise, it still was a life moment that was really good for both of us.”

To win at North Wilkesboro on Saturday, Hamlin on four fresh tires chased down leader Ross Chastain and nudged him out of the way. Chastain retaliated by hitting Hamlin’s car after the checkered flag.

“Two guys going for the same spot,” said Hamlin, who said Chastain tried to block his move. “It was still a great race. I had a great battle with Christopher Bell for at least 15 laps. That was a blast. Then Ross at the end, I never thought his tires would hold up as good as they did. It was a really fun race. If you talk about like a bump‑and‑run, that’s a textbook way of doing it. You get the guy up, out of the groove, but you don’t wreck him.”

Hamlin closed the iRacing Series with two wins in seven races. William Byron led the series with three victories but did not compete Saturday.

NASCAR is scheduled to resume racing next Sunday at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, where the series will compete without spectators.

“Can’t wait to get back. Can’t wait to see you guys in the real world starting next week,” Hamlin said.

NASCAR closed out its virtual series at North Wilkesboro Speedway, an original venue on NASCAR’s schedule in 1949 that was abandoned after the 1996 season as NASCAR began to expand outside its southern footprint.

Jeff Gordon won the last race at the 0.625-mile short track that featured a unique uphill backstretch and downhill frontstretch. After years sitting idle, the track has been badly damaged by weather and neglect and overgrown with weeds.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., an early iRacing enthusiast, recently led a clean-up effort of the iconic speedway so that iRacing could laser scan it and add it to the tracks on the virtual platform. It is not yet on iRacing for public use but was made available for NASCAR’s final race of its invitational esports venture. The track has been simulated as it was in 1987 and will be available for the public to race in June.

NASCAR quickly pivoted from real racing when its season was suspended March 13 during the coronavirus pandemic to the virtual platform. Its broadcasts set several esports viewing records for broadcast partner Fox, but the novelty wore off after Bubba Wallace was fired by a sponsor for rage quitting a race and then Kyle Larson used a racial slur while on the platform Easter Sunday. He was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for the incident.