As NASCAR continues its run of restoring relative normalcy through virtual racing, they’ll get a special boost from a legend of the circuit.
While the pause in live sporting events may bring about the retirement of several veterans, a legend of NASCAR is emerging from his.
Jeff Gordon will return to auto racing on Sunday afternoon, as NASCAR continues to stage live events through the iRacing simulator. Gordon will make his debut on the platform when NASCAR’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series runs the GEICO 70 at a replica of Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. ET, FS1).
Sunday at 1p ET on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports App. pic.twitter.com/TOQ6uCkJS5
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) April 23, 2020
iRacing was initially released in 2009. Real-life NASCAR drivers have competed on the virtual circuit since its inception. Timmy Hill, for example, has made over 1,600 iRacing starts, 674 of which have ended in wins. Hill is the regular driver of the No. 66 Toyota for low-budget squad MBM Motorsports.
Gordon made the announcement during a Wednesday night iRacing event broadcast on FS1.
With the real season on a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR has moved forward with the Pro Invitational Series, where stars of the premier Cup Series partake in races that correspond with the postponed real-life event. Such races, as well as other iRacing events, have appeared on the networks of Fox Sports, where Gordon has served as the booth analyst since his retirement from full-time racing in 2015. Other popular drivers to temporarily suspend retirement on the circuit include Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2000 Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte.
Hendrick Motorsports announced that Gordon and William Byron, who currently drives the No. 24 Chevrolet on the Cup schedule, will race with matching numerals on Sunday afternoon. Gordon’s paint scheme will be similar to the one he raced to victory in the 2004 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, complete with a throwback Pepsi logo.
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) April 24, 2020
Gordon made a name for himself as the driver of team owner Rick Hendrick’s No. 24 Chevrolet from 1993 through 2015. In that car, he won 93 NASCAR Cup Series races (third-best all-time behind only Richard Petty and David Pearson) and four championships. He briefly emerged from retirement in 2016 to relieve an injured Earnhardt Jr. in Hendrick’s No. 88 car. Gordon also remains part-owner of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, which has won seven additional championships. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte in 2019.
Despite Gordon’s lack of participation prior to Sunday, the 24 car has been a familiar visitor to virtual victory lane. Byron has won the last two Pro Invitational Series races and is one of the most experienced iRacing participants (1,470 starts and 294 wins under his belt).
Gordon’s broadcast partner Mike Joy hinted on Twitter that a solution has been reached.
“It’s all worked out and everyone is happy,” Fox’s NASCAR play-by-play man since its 2001 debut said.
Talladega is known for its tightly packed racing and propensity for big wrecks. It was nonetheless a good spot for a Gordon-branded return. His six wins at the track are tied for second-most all-time with Earnhardt Jr.
Byron said he was expecting similar chaos on the iRacing version, but was nonetheless greatly anticipating Sunday’s race.
“It’s going to be wild,” Byron said in a conference call after winning the Toyota Owners 150 at virtual Richmond International Raceway last weekend. “I think there’s honestly going to be some really good racing, though. I think the goal should be to have a couple of resets to keep us all in the game, and I’m really actually looking forward to it because I feel like some guys will be really good at drafting. But at the same time, it’s going to be really interesting.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags