Vols, Hokies set to make college football history

An artists rendering depicts the potential stadium setup for the Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 10, 2016. Officials expect over 150,000 atteendees for the game, which would break the record for the largest crowd to view a college football game.

Sunday, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series headed to virtual Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City Showdown. Available on the Fox network, the race featured many top NASCAR Cup Series drivers. William Bryon, who has been on the pole for all three of the eNASCAR races, finally got the victory in what was a caution-filled race.

The day got underway with qualifying, which was a three-minute period during which drivers simultaneously attempted to put their best lap on the board. Afterwards the drivers participated in two 50-lap heat races before the afternoon concluded with the 150-lap feature race. The first heat set the starting positions for the inside lane of the feature, while the second race set the outside lane.

On the pole for the first heat was the #24 car of Byron. Joining him on the first row was Dale Earnhardt Jr. sporting the #8. The heat featured smooth sailing until Ryan Blaney in the #12 car found the wall in laps 26 and 27, damaging his car. A few laps later Michael McDowell driving the #34 got into the side #77 of Parker Kligerman.

“We’re seeing a lot of this #24 car” Clint Boyer of the #14 car told FOX midrace “and what I did see was a lot of guys saving tires that are starting to come up the field.”

Then with 15 laps to go, Blaney spun out sending the #21 and Matt Dibeneditto down into the grass. In the penultimate lap, Christopher Bell in the #95 slid past Earnhardt Jr for second place, while Byran held on for the heat win and the pole position in the feature race.

“We had a good qualifying lap there” Heat one winner Byron told Fox “The track temp is little different for the heat race so I tried to save my tires as best I could”

Starting in the pole position for heat two was John Hunter Nemechek driving the #38 machine and the #89 of Landon Cassill in second. Nemechek got out to an early lead and unlike the first heat, the action started right away as Denny Hamlin spun out and dropped nearly eight spots in the second lap.

“I was trying to stay off of (Bobby Labonte)” Boyer told Fox “and I got hit. But, man it’s hard, I’m torn up … the next time I catch the old man, he’s going for a ride. Cause this is Bristol, right?”

As the passed the 21 laps to go mark, Boyer made good on his promise, intentionally wrecking Labonte. The Boyer-Labonte incident seem to spurn a series of wreck throughout the succeeding laps. Nemechek would hold on to clinch the final spot on the front row for the feature race with heat win by a photo finish over Ryan Preece in the #37 car.

“Our Ford Mustang was pretty good” Nemechek told Fox “I’ve been practicing this week … it was a really good race down to the end and I’m just glad …”

The feature race includes all 32 drivers competing and, unlike the heats, allows for cautions. After getting the command from Co-Grand Marshalls Mojo Rawley and Rob Gronkowski, Bryon and Nemechek led the field off the grid. Preece created the first caution of the race, spinning out on lap number one. When they finally got to green flag racing on lap 6, Boyer found himself turned around by Bubba Wallace.

“I got ‘Bubbaed’” Boyer jokingly said on the broadcast. “This is worse than real life. These guys forget this a 150-lap race.”

The race continued on with a few more cautions but none seemed to touch the cars near the front of the pack, while Byron seemed to have stranglehold on the top position. However roughly halfway through the feature race, Bryon ceded the top spot when he went in for a pitstop and #17 Chris Buescher took the lead. Also, during that same caution, both Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez were black-flagged, with the punishment coming down that they were both to park their cars for the remainder of the day.

However, Bryon quickly rose through the field, getting to second with 55 laps to go and reclaiming the lead with 43 laps to go. Nemechek found his way into second with just over their 30 laps to go. Then with ten laps to go, Kyle Busch, who was running sixth at the time, was knocked out of contention. In the end, Bryon held on to claim the win, for which he longed. Nemechek finished in second with Timmy Hill, Hamlin and Dibeneditto rounding out the top five.

“It was a lot of fun” Byron told Fox “We had to work through some track positon and really just keep ourselves up towards the top five. Luckily, we were able to do that and make the pass on (Buescher) and then just manage the restart there.”

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