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RPM’s Wallace expects challenge from Bristol iRacing event

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 1, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. believes virtual Bristol Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race, will in some ways be as challenging as the real track.

Sure, the drivers won’t have to deal with the G-forces and physical element of Bristol’s high banks like they would in the originally scheduled Food City 500. The way the racing simulators work, Wallace doesn’t get the feel of being out of control in the same way as driving a real car.

“Bristol is going to be tough. You can kind of get away with it in real life,” Wallace said ahead of Sunday’s event set for 1 p.m. on FS1. “It’s tough. You hit the wall, you’re cutting a tire quick. But here — it depends on where you hit with the car — it really affects your performance pretty bad. So it’s going to be tough.”

Wallace, driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet, has four career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the real Bristol Motor Speedway and a best finish of 14th, which came in the 2019 Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. He’s an accomplished driver in iRacing, winning 29 races in 107 starts.

He expects the game in many ways to mimic the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” However, the top groove, which has been dominant since the racetrack was resurfaced in 2007, may not be that way in the simulation.

“There are going to be a lot of close-quarters racing,” Wallace said. “The guys on the bottom may have a little bit of an advantage because it’s so easy to get in contact. Looking back at the replay of my wreck last weekend at Texas, it was so close that you’re dealing with lag and I felt like I wasn’t there underneath him and, all of a sudden, he was spun around. It’s those things that will take you out of contention quick. There’s definitely going to have to be a lot of give and take.”

There’s usually not much give and take at the actual BMS, so Wallace knows not to expect much in the game. He has plenty of experience around the half-mile oval, having won the Super Late Model race at the inaugural Short Track U.S. Nationals in 2017.

Wallace has made 80 career Cup Series starts and recorded a pair of top-five finishes, a second in the 2018 Daytona 500 and a third in the 2019 Brickyard 400.

While drivers don’t take iRacing as seriously as their regular jobs, the competitive nature sometimes bleeds through — prompting Wallace to mention an incident with Daniel Suarez in last week’s virtual Texas race.

“You’re still going to get mad at each other,” Wallace said. “You see Suarez, for an example, when he spun, he pulled right back up on the racetrack. Obviously, he wouldn’t do that in real life, so it’s like, why in the heck are you doing it on virtual? Yeah, it’s not going to hurt anybody, but you ruin somebody’s race. We still get mad and frustrated, so it’s just virtual versus real life.”

For Wallace, who in 2013 became the first African American driver to win in NASCAR’s truck series, his main purpose is to entertain the fans. He’s not surprised, though, to see how many hours some of his fellow racers have been putting in on the simulators to become better at iRacing.

“We’re putting on a show for the fans and doing some things that wouldn’t really happen in real life, so it’s a little bit different,” he said. “Definitely a lot of people are getting more serious, practicing every day. So it’s pretty cool and shows how competitive we are.”

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