With interest in sim racing reaching levels unseen before, yesterday NASCAR announced that they would add a brand-new race titled the “Saturday Night Thunder” to accompany the Food City Showdown, the third round of eNASCAR’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series at iRacing’s virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.
Unlike the Pro Invitational Series, Saturday Night Thunder will feature a field of exclusively non-Cup drivers. Drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series, and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series are all eligible to participate in the Thunder.
Saturday Night Thunder participants will also race the ARCA Menards Series “Gen 4” cars instead of the Cup Series “Gen 6” cars used in the Pro Invitational Series. Saturday Night Thunder also acts as a separate race to the Food City Showdown and thus, none of the drivers taking part in the Thunder will be receiving a lock-in status for the Pro Invitational Series race on Sunday.
Also announced in the same announcement yesterday is a change of race format in the Pro Invitational Series. The Food City Showdown will continue to feature a field of current Cup drivers, former Cup drivers, and drivers from the lower-tier series of NASCAR, but instead of a Last Chance Qualifier race that determines the lower-tier series drivers that will take part in the main event, there will be two heat races to the starting lineup for Food City Showdown’s main event on Sunday afternoon (U.S. time).
NASCAR Whelen Euro Series themselves has been active in the sim racing community ever since it was announced that the first two rounds of the season at Valencia and Brands Hatch will be postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As of this writing, Euro Series drivers have participated in three sim races that has received official approval and support by the series.
The first one, held at iRacing’s virtual Watkins Glen as part of the Campeonato Italiano NASCAR Cup Series championship on 23 March, was won and dominated by two-time series champion Alon Day – who also showcased his PK Carsport No. 24 Monster Energy livery for the first time – while sim racing veteran Ben Creanor finished second.
Four days later on 27 March, the NWES I-FRN Challenge was held at the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of the series’ collaboration with the i-FRN championship. Sim racer Gary Dumont won the race while Giorgio Maggi finished 13th as the best finishing Euro Series driver. Also noteworthy to mention is Andre Castro’s race, as he had to race back from a six-lap deficit to eventually finish in 16th position, just one lap down from Dumont.
And yesterday, NASCAR Fans UK and Vertex Sports Management – owned by Euro Series driver Alex Sedgwick – collaborated with the series to host the NASCAR Fans UK iRacing Challenge at the virtual Brands Hatch Indy Circuit. The race itself was won by Turn 4 Motorsports’ Rhys Saunders, while Castro once again impressed in the race as he went on to finish in 3rd place as the best finishing Euro Series driver in the race.
Interestingly, the three sim races that the Euro Series held so far featured different type of cars in each race. For the CIN race, the Cup cars were used. For the i-FRN race, the Xfinity cars were used while the ARCA cars – the same cars that will be raced in the Saturday Night Thunder – were used for NASCAR Fans UK’s race.
Saturday Night Thunder will be streamed live on eNASCAR.com, while the Food City Showdown will be shown live on FOX and FS1.
Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR / eNASCAR / NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.