TALLADEGA -- Garrett Smithley is looking to earn his fourth Top-10 finish in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at Talladega on Sunday.
Smithley is one of 40 drivers expected to participate in the GEICO 70, which will be broadcast on Fox at 1 p.m.
Smithley, who has participated in all four of the previous races, said he hopes this race will be a distraction from everything that is going on with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is really cool to see where it has gone with the viewership on Fox and how the whole industry has come together and put themselves into it,” Smithley said. “It has been a lot of fun to see. It has been fun to be a part of it.
“We have had some success, and that has been good for our real racing team. We have been having a lot of fun with it, but the biggest thing is putting on a show for our fans. We are trying to give back a little bit of normalcy as we get through this crazy time.”
The driver of the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet has three Top-10 finishes in the first four iRacing events, including a third-place finish at Texas and a fifth-place finish at Homestead.
Smithley said his previous experience in iRacing has played a major role in his virtual success. For his career, he has 146 wins, 537 Top-5s and 131 poles in 1,229 starts.
“I have been on the service since 2009, so I have quite a bit of experience,” Smithley said. “For me, it was a tool to keep myself sane and keep my mind sharp when I wasn’t full-time racing.
“I went full-time racing in 2015 in the Xfinity Series and I was with them for four years … It has been cool to come back to my roots and be successful at it. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have been able to run as well as I have been running the last few weeks.”
Smithley’s experience in iRacing will not give him much of an advantage in Sunday’s race at Talladega. Just like the real race, the virtual race at Talladega will be a different ballgame from the previous four.
“It is like any other superspeedway race where everyone has a shot, everyone is going to be drafting,” Smithley said. “Every race car has the same speed.
“It is kind of a role reversal because these are the tracks (where) we as small teams feel like we have an opportunity. Now, these guys that don’t have the experience in iRacing, now they all of a sudden have a shot.”
Even though Sunday’s race is virtual, Smithley will enter with the same type strategy as if he was actually racing at Talladega.
“I think I want to ride in the back, for the most part, save my car and be there at the end,” he said. “If you are not out there at the end, you are not going to win the race. I think it is going to be interesting how it all plays out; I am excited to see what happens. It is definitely going to be a show for sure.”
Smithley has had some success at Talladega in the Xfinity Series. In four races at Talladega, he has 10th-, 12th-, and 13th-place finishes.
While he has enjoyed some success at superspeedways, Smithley said that doesn’t mean he prefers that type of racing.
“I am not a huge fan of plate racing and superspeedway racing just because it is so much out of your control,” he said. “I had to tell myself to enjoy it because I have been successful at it and we have run well there. It is a big opportunity for our teams and sponsors to showcase what we can do. Even though it is a lot of luck involved, you have to put yourself in a position to be lucky. You have to create those opportunities.”
Smithley will run an extended schedule when NASCAR returns to action. The 27-year-old has 17 Cup starts since the 2018 season, including nine in 2019.
Smithley hopes with a good showing when the season resumes, he can create a better opportunity for himself in NASCAR.
“Right now, I am focused on making Rick Ware Racing as good as can be,” he said. “We just want to finish races, especially now since we are going to come out this quarantine and we have a bunch of races in a short amount of time.
“We are going to have to keep the cars clean since we don’t have the type of inventory or the personnel to fix cars. We are going to have to be in survival mode. I want to prove to everybody that I deserve to be out there and, hopefully, that translates to being around in this sport for a longtime.”