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Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

FS1 broadcast a NASCAR race Sunday, and a lot of things felt familiar, from the pre-race prayer and national anthem to camera shots of the leaders and a racetrack lined with billboards.

One big difference: It was a video game. Real NASCAR drivers were behind the wheels, but they were racing on a digital track from the comfort of their living rooms using a platform called iRacing.

  • How it worked: iRacing is a simulation platform used by everyone from game enthusiasts to professional drivers looking to get extra practice. There's even the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, where the world's best simulation drivers compete in a season for more than $300,000.
  • The winner: Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. off the final corner to win the race at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • Fun fact: This was Hamlin's 31st victory in iRacing, which is where he was first discovered by Earnhardt long before he became one of NASCAR's highest-paid drivers.
  • Equipment: Truck Series driver Ty Majeski, ranked one of the best iRacers in the world, competed from a computer propped on a wooden desk with a steering wheel attached, while Hamlin raced barefoot in a $40,000 rig.

The big picture: With "real" sports on hiatus, virtual sports are having a moment, as leagues and media partners get creative in how to reach fans.

  • Soccer: The top teams in La Liga held a FIFA tournament, with one player from each club controlling their respective team. (Real Madrid, controlled by winger Marco Asensio, ultimately won.)
  • Basketball: NBC Sports Washington is broadcasting hour-long simulations of the Wizards' and Celtics' previously scheduled regular season games using NBA 2K20 and NHL 20.
  • Baseball: The simulation-heavy game Outside of the Park Baseball 21 is out this week and is setting records for number of purchases.

Yes, but: While NBA 2K is super realistic (LeBron plays it like its "real basketball" and uses it to test out lineups) and FIFA, NHL and OOTP offer believable simulations, virtual racing comes closer to the real thing than any other sport.

The bottom line: NASCAR, which hopes to do this every week until racing returns, has a golden opportunity to engage sports fans with what very well might be the closest thing to real sports that we have for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper: How sports media is handling the coronavirus outage

Go deeper

House passes $768 billion defense spending bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House approved a $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2022 fiscal year in a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: The annual bill, which authorizes Pentagon spending levels and guides policy for the department, would require women to register for the military draft, among other provisions.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans’ secret lobbying

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The five Senate Republicans who helped negotiate and draft the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill have been privately courting their Republican colleagues to pass the measure in the House.

Why it matters: House GOP leaders are actively urging their members to oppose the bill. The senators are working to undercut that effort as Monday shapes up as a do-or-die moment for the bipartisan bill.

CBC members nix border visit

A Haitian migrant carries a toddler on his shoulders today as he crosses the Rio Grande River. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus weighed visiting the U.S.-Mexico border this week to investigate the conditions faced by Haitian migrants and protest allegations of inhumane treatment by U.S. agents.

Why it matters: It's a thorny proposition both in terms of timing and messaging. Going assures a new wave of negative headlines for President Biden amid sinking popularity. And with congressional deadlines in the coming days over infrastructure, a possible government shutdown and debt-limit crisis, Democrats can't afford to lose any votes in the House.