Steve Luvender | NASCAR
Brad Keselowski is known as a superspeedway expert in NASCAR circles, and after winning the GEICO 70 in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series in a late-race pass, his status holds true in the sim world, too.
The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champ passed race-dominant James Davison on a late-race restart as chaos unfolded deep in the pack during the run to the checkered flag in the exhibition race.
The virtual 2.66-mile superspeedway hosted the second race of this year’s Pro Invitational Series Wednesday night and featured a full field of NASCAR Cup Series stars — plus a few special guests — four days before Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM).
Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., FOX Sports broadcaster Clint Bowyer and fan-vote winner Jesse Iwuji joined 36 NASCAR Cup Series regulars for 70 scheduled laps of action on FS1, featuring iRacing’s laser-scanned version of Talladega with as-real-as-it-gets Cup cars.
Keelan Harvick, eight-year-old son of NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick, was also invited to race alongside his dad.
James Davison qualified on pole after a round of single-car qualifying alongside Anthony Alfredo — underdogs by Cup Series standards, but experts when it comes to iRacing.
Rick Ware Racing’s Davison, combined with teammate Garrett Smithley, put their Chevrolets at the front of the pack to open up the evening.
The race’s first caution flew when Austin Dillon and William Byron tangled, snarling Kevin Harvick in the process. Luckily, the drivers were afforded two fast-repair damage resets each, enabling the drivers to continue.
Shortly after, in-race reporter Bowyer went for a spin thanks to a bump-draft gone wrong with Daniel Suarez, who sported a Red Farmer tribute paint scheme for the evening. Despite the available resets, the crash knocked Bowyer out of contention — though he admits he didn’t enter the race with high hopes.
Throughout the intermediate portions of the race, the leaders remained in single-file formation — Davison and Smithley out in front — waiting patiently to make a move until later.
A round of green-flag pit stops — a surprise to some drivers — brought the field to pit road to make it to the finish with enough fuel. Still, Australia’s Davison persisted at the front of the field.
A flurry of cautions bunched up the field with less than 25 laps to go, setting up for a sprint to the finish, pit stops no longer a question.
On each ensuing restart, it didn’t take long for action to take on the familiar side-by-side, ultra-competitive look of any race at Talladega.
Talladega’s famous “Big One” struck not long after, a multi-car crash triggered when Denny Hamlin and Corey LaJoie made contact, tagging Iwuji, Kyle Larson, Matt DiBenedetto, and others.
Intensity ramped up as the lap count dwindled. The caution flew again with less than 10 to go when Larson, Hamlin and Chase Briscoe collided, sending Joey Logano’s car into the air in a manner reminiscent of Jeff Gordon’s crash in last year’s running of the sim race.
Of course, another crash meant another caution — and another restart. This time, six laps from the finish.
Teammates Davison and Smithley struggled to coordinate the restart, putting the brakes on Smithley’s outside lane and breaking up the unstoppable pair. But another caution flew shortly after when Byron and Justin Haley made contact and crashed with Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr. and others, setting up yet another restart — the race’s final.
Keselowski, who’d patiently waited behind Davison in previous runs, was able to quickly make his way to the preferred bottom lane, the veteran faking out the race’s dominant driver.
Keselowski, the 34-time Cup Series race winner, held off a hungry Christopher Bell to cross the finish line first, picking up his first Pro Invitational Series victory.
Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, surged to third on the last lap, while Timmy Hill and defending race winner Alex Bowman rounded out the top five. Davison came home eighth after leading 61 laps.
Keelan Harvick finished the race — though deep in the field in 38th position.
While no points or money is on the line in the Pro Invitational Series, iRacing will make a $5,000 donation to Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation.
The iRacing Pro Invitational Series was created last year as NASCAR looked for alternative forms of racing after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The series returned for 2021 and features a 10-race schedule, with events airing on FOX Sports and NBC Sports.
The next iRacing Pro Invitational Series race is set for May 5 at the virtual Darlington Raceway.