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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

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.

1 hour ago - Health

Student's death renews calls for schools to stock opioid overdose drug

Photo: Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A Connecticut student's death has renewed calls for schools to stock and administer naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Why it matters: U.S. drug overdose fatalities reached six figures in a 12-month period for the first time in November, and synthetic or natural opioids were the cause of a majority of the overdoses.