Sports organizations such as NASCAR are using creative means to connect with fans this month after the coronavirus outbreak forced sweeping cancellations and postponements of games and other live events.
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The top-tier racing circuit will air its first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1. Several of NASCAR’s top current and former drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, are expected to participate in the virtual race using IRacing’s simulation platform. The platform is designed to recreate a live race down to the smallest details.
“It’s a cool way to keep things going on the racing side and have that kind of outlet,” NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenedetto said on the circuit’s website. “It’ll be a lot of fun especially because most of us have simulators in our homes that we use for fun all the time.”
The 100-lap virtual race will take place at a simulated version of the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rather than a video game controller, the competitors will use a driving simulator, complete with steering wheel and pedals. A total of 35 drivers will compete.
A Fox Sports broadcast team featuring Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds will call the race.
“This is a unique opportunity to offer competitive and entertaining racing to our viewers as we all work through these challenging times together,” Fox Sports executive producer Brad Zager said in a statement.
The virtual event should provide a respite for NASCAR fans missing out on the traditional circuit due to the coronavirus outbreak. NASCAR has postponed all events through May 3, though officials said they plan to reschedule the races later this year.
Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards, is implementing a similar plan to provide fans with placeholder sports programming.
The company plans to air simulated versions of scheduled Capitals and Wizards games using Take-Two Interactive’s NBA 2K20 and EA Sports’ NHL 20. The games will air on streaming platform Monumental Sports Network as one-hour broadcasts, beginning on Saturday with an esports version of the Wizards’ scheduled game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We know that fans are as disappointed as we are not to be able to watch our favorite teams on a nightly basis. We hope that these fun and engaging video game simulations will entertain our fans and help provide a greater sense of normalcy during these challenging times,” said Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “We hope that when people tune in and watch these simulated games, they will be able to enjoy some friendly competitive play from the comforts of their own home.”
U.S. sports leagues suspended their seasons earlier this month as the outbreak worsened. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the cancellation of mass gatherings, including sporting events, to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Fox Corp. is the parent company of Fox Sports and FOX Business.