Ray Alfalla led Tyler Hudson by two points going into the season ending race at Homestead Miami. In a season without a chase-style playoff system, two competitors can't be much more evenly matched. But when the race was over, the drivers got bubbly from their kitchen instead of victory lane, because neither of them were actually in Miami.
In its fourth year, the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship (NiSWC) is a an online racing championship sanctioned by NASCAR and taking place using the iRacing simulator. The cars may be virtual, but the racing is very real. Just as real as the sponsors (including NASCAR drivers like Dale Earnhart Jr and Parker Kilgerman) paying them to race online, and as real as the giant check, ring, and trophy presented by NASCAR at the real world finale in Homestead.
What makes the series so competitive? The democratizing nature of sim racing plays a large role. Every car is identically prepared, there are no second-rate chassis or engines. There is no need for an underfunded team to start-and-park to collect a 40th place payout to keep the lights on. A driver can start in sim racing for mere hundreds of dollars, compared with the real world where any serious attempt to climb the ladder begins with tens of thousands and often ends with hundreds of thousands. Who knows how many epic drivers never got beyond the club level because they couldn't obtain a sponsorship? In sim racing, you begin to find those drivers who would have been contenders, if only they had funding.
The Homestead round (which can be watched here) capped an 18 race biweekly series with the best stock car racers on iRacing. In the end, Tyler Hudson won his first championship, Ending Alfalla's streak. Ray had this to say on the end of his championship streak:
It's disappointing to come up short like that, especially when I thought it was all wrapped up just a couple races ago. I got caught up in a couple wrecks, and that really hurt my chances. I'd say it is just as competitive, or even more than before. Some teams have found a lot of speed, and are extremely tough to beat. My team this year struggled for pace, and it was evident at the end.
Now in the offseason, the slowest drivers will be relegated and compete with the top drivers from iRacing's weekly series to try and earn their spots back into the World Championship. And next year that $10,000 check will be waiting for one talented racer at the end. It may not be the payouts Brad Keselowski et al compete for, but victory tastes just as sweet when the field is as competitive as it is here. If you love racing, but don't like seeing the field filled with backmarkers and underfunded teams, give professional sim racing a look.
Maybe you'll even join them someday.