Walsh: What I’ve Learned Through 2 Weeks of Handicapping the NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series

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Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images. Pictured: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, races Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #8 FilterTime Chevrolet, during the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

When it comes to eSports, I’m out of the loop. I played video games avidly from the time I was five years old until my mid-20s, but would be lying if I said I was in touch with today’s gamers.

In fact, the last console I purchased was a Playstation 2. Yeah, it’s been a while.

On the other hand, I am an unabashed NASCAR addict with plenty of experience handicapping the sport, so the creation of the NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series piqued my interest, especially with the absence of live sports due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Can traditional NASCAR handicapping techniques be applied to eNASCAR to accurately predict which drivers will perform well in a given event?

With two races now under our belts — Homestead-Miami Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway — here are some handicapping nuggets that I have picked up along the way.

NASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Handicapping 

Spoiler alert — but handicapping a video game is much different than doing the same for real NASCAR events.

With traditional NASCAR, there is plenty of historical data to analyze in order to project which drivers should be fast prior to a given race. That is enhanced when cars hit the track for multiple practice sessions and qualifying ahead of each race with plenty of time to incorporate into one’s handicapping process.

From what I can tell, there isn’t really much rhyme or reason to practice in iRacing. Prior to the season-opening Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead, there were plenty of practice sessions with drivers and those in the industry tweeting out times, making them relatively widely available.

On the other hand, practice was so limited and disorganized last week at Texas that NASCAR Cup Series driver and Pro Invitational Series participant Clint Bowyer didn’t even know when to practice.

And even when Bowyer did apparently find a way to get in laps, those sessions kept getting shut down:

And remember, he’s an actual participant — not a person simply looking for something meaningful to handicap an upcoming race.

In addition, qualifying occurs immediately before the start of the event, so the starting lineup is available for a very short period of time before a race goes green. Again, that’s a big difference from traditional NASCAR and another data point we can’t really use in iRacing.

So what can we do to handicap these events?

At this point, I have had my greatest success doing two things, the first being simply asking around and listening to those much more familiar with iRacing.

I know, groundbreaking stuff here.

But don’t be afraid to find like-minded people on Twitter and ask away. I’ve picked up some great tips and information simply by bugging others.

And speaking of Twitter, following drivers who participate in the iRacing Pro Invitational Series is a great strategy for anyone looking to handicap the sport.

Drivers have no problem sharing plenty of valuable information, like who they think will be good in the upcoming race as well as what they think of their own chances, specifically how much (or little) time they’ve put into preparation.

For example, Ross Chastain didn’t log into iRacing to practice at Texas until 11:44 a.m. ET on Sunday, just over an hour before qualifying and about an hour and a half before the start of the race.

Unsurprisingly, Chastain messed up in qualifying, earning the 33rd spot on the starting grid (out of 35 cars) before finishing an underwhelming 22nd — one lap down.

By simply finding that Tweet, those attempting to handicap iRacing at Texas could reasonably project that Chastain would struggle in the race.

NASCAR’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series is still very much in its infancy, and more information, data and stats will surely become available as we move forward.

And as they do, I’ll continue to evolve and incorporate them into my iRacing handicapping process.

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