Sports leagues and broadcasters are scrambling to fill the void now that many live competitions are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for NASCAR and Fox Sports that means venturing into relatively uncharted territory. They've announced an inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series that will replace canceled NASCAR races with "simulation-style" esports competitions. These will involve top-tier competitors, too -- you can expect Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin among other racers and luminaries from various NASCAR series.
Familiar Fox broadcasters like Jeff Gordon will commentate on the 90-minute race programs. And before you're wondering: no, this isn't another giant opportunity for the novel coronavirus to spread. Fox said it was "following CDC guidelines" to make sure the production is safe.
The first event takes place on March 22nd at 1:30PM Eastern on FS1 and the Fox Sports app.
There's no doubt that the virtual series was born out of desperation. It might, however, serve as a crash course on esports for millions of people. Many in the general public are only vaguely familiar with competitive gaming at best. A smooth race could do much to inform people about virtual motorsports, even if only a fraction of viewers keep watching once conventional NASCAR returns.