NASCAR could end up losing a full-time Cup driver

The debacle surrounding Timmy Hill competing in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series could end up costing the NASCAR Cup Series a full-time driver.

Thanks to a very kind gesture by Team Penske NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric, Timmy Hill got to compete in the 2021 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series season opener on dirt at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway, which preceded what was the first real-life Cup Series race on dirt in over five decades last Monday afternoon.

Cindric was set to compete in the race as the replacement for Brad Keselowski behind the wheel of the #2 Ford, but after learning that Hill, who was the top driver in the series last season when it was introduced, had been denied entry, he gave up his virtual seat.

Only the 36 chartered Cup Series were allowed to compete in this race around the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked oval in Bristol, Tennessee, although Fox reportedly had the ability to fill four more spots with Fox Sports 1 broadcasting the race. They only added Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this event, creating a 38-car field.

The only exception to the 36-charter rule was the fact that Ryan Preece, a full-time driver, drove the non-chartered #37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet.

But that only happened because Kevin Harvick did not pilot his #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in this event. Preece, being a client of Kevin Harvick Incorporated, effectively got to use the #4 team’s charter to be allowed to compete in this virtual event.

However, despite the fact that Hill has competed behind the wheel of the #66 car for MBM Motorsports on a full-time basis since the start of the 2020 season, he was not invited to compete.

He still wasn’t given permission to do so even after reaching out about the matter to those with a say in it, even after being under the impression that all full-time drivers would not just be invited but required to compete in this year’s 10-race virtual series.

Fortunately, Cindric did what he did, and he made quite a few fans for himself in the process, as he should have.

Hill ended up finishing the race in eighth place, with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron winning.

Last season, Hill was the driver to beat in the series, winning at virtual Texas Motor Speedway after a late bump and run on Byron. He racked up five top three finishes in the other six races as well, and had points been tallied for the series, he would have run away with the championship — even ahead of Byron, who won three races.

But there’s a much deeper issue at play here.

Sure, it’s all good and well that Hill got to compete like he deserved to. That’s great — but only for the short-term. And we’re not just talking about him competing, or not competing, in future eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races.

As a result of the omission of the #66 car from this event and due to the fact that Hill wasn’t competing for MBM Motorsports in this race but for Team Penske instead, he may end up no longer competing full-time in the Cup Series thanks to a lack of sponsorship.

Here is what he told Frontstretch about the matter ahead of that event.

“We try to package our real life racing to the Pro Invitational. We kind of really leveraged [that to sponsors], because we try to really package it all together. … When they first announced [the Pro Invitational] they said, ‘All full-time drivers and teams will be invited and actually are required to participate in it’.

“We had success with the Pro Invitational last year that we actually kind of game planned around that event. For the Cup season, we actually purposely ran all the races this year just so we could meet all the criteria that we thought we had to make to be part of this. As this day kind of inched closer, we tried to get [in contact with] people who are in charge of this, and nobody would really respond. It really is par for the course.

“We were running Cup races this year, despite NASCAR cutting their prize money back on us, purposely so we would make the Pro Invitational. So now with all these odds stacked against us, not being invited to the Pro Invitational with NASCAR also cutting the prize money back, there’s no incentive for us to run a Cup race. So we’ll probably end up cutting the Cup schedule back now.”

Hill has already missed two races this season, with the first being the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. He attempted to compete, but his qualifying attempt was unsuccessful.

He also didn’t compete in the real-life race on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, with Mike Marlar making his Cup Series debut behind the wheel of the #66 Toyota. But that was planned, and the plan is for Hill to be back now.

Nevertheless, this situation could sadly prove devastating to the Cup Series hopes of Hill and MBM Motorsports in the long run.

Talk about a self-inflicted controversy for those in charge…

The next race on the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series calendar is scheduled to take place at virtual Talladega Superspeedway on Wednesday, April 21. This race is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET. Will Hill be competing in that race? Will he still be competing in the Cup Series by that point? Those things remain to be seen.

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