Any regular user of iRacing has undoubtedly recognized some high-profile NASCAR names on the program.
An online simulator with a realistic nature, iRacing is a tool utilized and often mentioned by drivers like William Byron and Ty Majeski. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a noted iRacing enthusiastic who has spent time on the program racing against fans. Others, like Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley, have also invested hours upon hours into iRacing.
These days, fans can find another big name in the iRacing community: Chad Knaus. The seven-time champion crew chief, who has won 81 NASCAR Cup Series races in the real world, isn’t interested in changing careers, but he has been spending time behind the wheel in the virtual iRacing world.
“I’ve always enjoyed video games, and I know this isn’t necessarily a game, but I’ve always enjoyed it,” the Hendrick Motorsports ace told RACER. “Growing up in the video game era, it was kind of the cool thing to do. I actually started to use the NASCAR video games before I would go to some racetracks.”
Take a Fontana or the road courses of Sonoma and Watkins Glen — tracks on the circuit that aren’t visited multiple times a season: To familiarize himself with those tracks before arriving there in real life, Knaus would jump onto his PlayStation and play the NASCAR video games. (In the early 2000s, some options included EA Sports produced titles such as NASCAR Thunder or NASCAR Chase for the Cup. In recent years there have been various NASCAR Heat games introduced.)
Then a few years ago, Jimmie Johnson got an iRacing setup from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Knaus messed around with it a few times and wound up impressed.
“About six months ago, I really started to look into it a little bit after working with William (Byron) for a year and understanding where he is with it,” said Knaus. “I acquired a rig about two months ago. I had used it maybe three times before the season started just to try to get familiar with some of the racetracks, and obviously, now, with a little more time on our hands, I’ve been doing it more and more often.
“I think it’s a pretty legitimate simulation tool. You can use it as a game and for fun if you want, or you can use it for real competitive nature. I do a little bit of both depending on what my mindset is that day.”
Knaus has been participating in The Replacements 100 races, which started as NASCAR went on hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The race features many individuals from the NASCAR garage — drivers, spotters, crew chiefs, and others.
Using the number 189, Knaus doesn’t venture too far into the weeds when it comes to his paint scheme and other details. Axalta is featured on his car, although Knaus changed the colors to blue and green. And he doesn’t like tuning the car, instead opting for the fixed setups so he can just drive.
Using a three-monitor setup, Knaus said his Sim Seats rig is “pretty nice.” During the Xfinity Series race at Fontana last month in which he was a part of the broadcast team, Knaus told the story of how Sim Seats founder Zach McAfee and Richard Childress Racing driver Anthony Alfredo were the ones who installed and got it up and running for him.
“I got a headset and a mic from William,” said Knaus. “I’m just starting to get to that level where I’m using them. Before, I was typically (lapping) by myself and testing and practicing, (again) just to familiarize myself with the racetracks. Now I’m starting to get to the point where I’m communicating a little more and understanding what’s happening.”
As such, to a small degree, iRacing has become something Knaus and Byron have bonded over. As they continue to turn the No. 24 Chevrolet team into contenders in the real world, the virtual world has helped their cause.
“Communication is always a premium, and if you can draw some parallels to anything, it will help you,” said Knaus. “In years past, Jimmie and I would always talk about different types of race cars; we would watch a motorcycle race, and you could draw a parallel to, ‘Man, you see how that rear wheel is bouncing over the ruts? That’s kind of what I feel at this racetrack,’ etc
“Anything you can do to open up the communication lines helps whether or not it’s a direct correlation to the iRacing product. But we have talked about a few things. Absolutely it’s a good tool from that standpoint.”