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Today’s iRacing Cup race at virtual North Wilkesboro: Start time, more

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The seventh and final edition of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series takes place today on a digital North Wilkesboro Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App).

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won the last four races: William Byron has won three, including last week at a virtual Dover Raceway, as well as Alex Bowman.

Here’s the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

DIGNITARIES: Country music artist and former NASCAR pit crew member Chase Rice will perform the National Anthem. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will give the command to start engines. Cassi Mitchell Smith, wife of Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith, will give the invocation.

FORMAT: One hour of practice begins at 2 p.m. Qualifying begins at 2:50 p.m. The top 10 qualifiers will be inverted. The top-three finishers from Dover (Christopher Bell and Timmy Hill) will start from the back and will not make a qualifying attempt. Byron, who won last week’s event is not scheduled to compete.

RACE: The North Wilkesboro 160 is scheduled to begin at 3:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 160 laps (100 miles) around the virtual .625-mile oval.

RULES: Drivers will be allowed one reset to repair damage. Manual cautions will be determined by race officials. There will be a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

TV: The race can be seen on FOX (where available), FS1 and the Fox Sports App. Coverage begins at 3 p.m.

DRIVERS SCHEDULED TO COMPETE (subject to change):

#3 Austin Dillon
#4 Kevin Harvick
#6 Ross Chastain
#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
#10 Aric Almirola
#11 Denny Hamlin
#13 Ty Dillon
#14 Clint Bowyer
#17 Chris Buescher
#18 Kyle Busch
#19 Martin Truex Jr.
#20 Erik Jones
#21 Jon Wood
#24 Jeff Gordon
#31 Tyler Reddick
#34 Michael McDowell
#37 Ryan Preece
#38 John Hunter Nemechek
#41 Cole Custer
#49 Chad Finchum
#51 Garrett Smithley
#52 JJ Yeley
#53 Joey Gase
#66 Timmy Hill
#77 Parker Kligerman
#89 Landon Cassill
#95 Christopher Bell
#TBD Bobby Labonte

WHAT DRIVERS ARE SAYING:

Erik Jones: “I’m looking forward to North Wilkesboro. It’s something completely different for me. I’ve never been there in real life or virtually until earlier this week when I ran some laps and some of the practice races. It should be fun. It’s really a unique track. It’s challenging from the time I’ve spent on it and the laps I’ve made. I know we’re all pretty excited to run there to finish it out. It’s been a good time in the Pro Invitational over the last month and a half that we’ve been running it since Homestead. Hopefully we can close it out with another good show. … We had a good shot at Dover and it would be nice to get up front and win one of these races.”

Austin Dillon: “It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure. I’ve personally never raced at North Wilkesboro, but my family has a lot of experience there. North Wilkesboro was one of my dad’s favorite tracks when he was a driver. He’s won Late Model races there.”

Tyler Reddick: “I’m really looking forward to this Saturday’s race at North Wilkesboro . That’s a track I’ve never been to since it closed long before I started racing in NASCAR, but I’ve always wanted to race there. It’s a track I’ve seen a lot of old races at and heard a lot about from other drivers, so I was excited when I heard iRacing was not only scanning the track to add it to their program, but also that we’ll get to be the first people to race on it this weekend. One of the reasons I love iRacing so much is because it allows me to race at all these legendary short tracks, like North Wilkesboro. I hope one day I’ll get to race there in real life, but this is a great alternative for now.”

Kevin Harvick: “I actually tested my Cup car at North Wilkesboro in 2011 or 2012 – somewhere in that timeframe. We ran our car around there because they had it cleaned up enough and were running some races there. I’ve never actually run a race at North Wilkesboro other than those few laps I ran on that particular day. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and iRacing, obviously, pushed to get that track scanned, and it looks just like North Wilkesboro. I think it’s a great move, and I look forward to running there in my Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang before we go back to real racing.”

Aric Almirola: “I have actually really enjoyed my short time in iRacing. I think it’s so cool to be able to virtually race somewhere we can’t in real life. We finished 10th at Dover by surviving, and I’m sure that will be the strategy this weekend. I think it will be a bit more of an even playing field now because the track is relatively new to everyone. The coolest thing about racing this weekend is that we surprised my wife, Janice, with a paint scheme that she colored a few weeks ago. We got bored and decided to color some fun paint schemes with the kids. Smithfield was kind enough to approve it and put it on the racecar to dedicate to Janice for Mother’s Day. If I win in this paint scheme, we might have to run it again on a real track.”

Clint Bowyer: “How we used iRacing with our sport has been phenomenal. It gave us an opportunity to reach our fans and gave them some great entertainment. I’ve been entertained. I hope it shows. Jeff (Gordon) and I have been having a blast down there at the (FOX) studio calling these races. It has been a lot of fun, but it’s not much longer until we get back to real racing, and that’s what all of us want. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or paid attention, but the ones who are winning these iRaces are the ones that don’t have a family or a wife to answer to. So no, I don’t have much of a chance for success, but I’m still going to have fun in my Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford Mustang.”

Cole Custer: “I’ve never been to North Wilkesboro before, but it’s cool how when you drive to Bristol that you can see the track right off the highway, and you can kind of think about what it used to be back in its heyday. It will be really interesting since there are only a handful of guys who have driven on the track, so there will be a lot of learning for everyone to get it figured out, that’s for sure. I’ll definitely spend a couple more hours to try and get an idea of what to do in my Haas Tooling Ford Mustang since I’ve never been there.”

Denny Hamlin: “It’s certainly going to be interesting. Hats off to Dale Jr. for taking the initiative to get the track cleaned up and scanned by iRacing so that we could do it. Obviously, I’ll need to run plenty of practice laps leading up to Saturday to get a good feel for it. But it’s a short track, which is right in our wheelhouse. … (iRacing has) been great for our sport. We’ve given fans races to watch, plus gotten some new eyes watching our sport who maybe had never watched a race before. We’ve been providing live competition on national TV in a way that other sports couldn’t.”

Michael McDowell: “I’m sure that I am speaking for not only myself, but for the entire NASCAR community when I say that it has been a long two months without racing. I’m thankful for the recent news that we will be returning to the race track soon, and I’m also thankful for all of the hard work that iRacing, NASCAR and FOX Sports have put in to deliver fans, drivers, teams and partners with the closest thing possible to live racing during quarantine.”

John Hunter Nemechek: “It’s going to be really cool to race virtually at North Wilkesboro this weekend. No one has run an iRacing event at this track before, so it might be a little wild and crazy, but definitely worth tuning in. I think it will be the perfect finale to the Pro Invitational Series, and a great sendoff as we get ready to return to the track in Darlington next weekend.”

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Today’s Daytona 500: Start time, lineup and more

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After a week of preliminary events at Daytona International Speedway, the Daytona 500 is finally here.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will lead the field to green today. He’ll have teammate Alex Bowman beside him on the front row.

Here’s all the information for today’s season-opening race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt at 2:53 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 1:50 p.m. The invocation will be given by Ronnie Barton, retired pastor, First Baptist Church of South Daytona at 2:45 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed by the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus at 2:46 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (500 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 80 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Austin Dillon won last year’s Daytona 500, finishing ahead of Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin. Erik Jones won at Daytona last July, placing ahead of Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt named Daytona 500 Grand Marshal

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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will serve as the grand marshal and give the command to start engines for Sunday’s Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway officials announced.

Watt becomes the first NFL player to give the command to start engines in The Great American Race’s 61-year history.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as Grand Marshal for this year’s ‘Great American Race,’” Watt said in a statement. “The Daytona 500 is a truly iconic event with a rich history and I am very much looking forward to taking in the action up close and personal this year.”

A three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Watts is also known for his charity work, most notably raising more than $41 million for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts for the city of Houston in 2017. He was awarded the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his hurricane relief efforts.

“We’re ecstatic to have a person who has shown to be not only an incredible athlete, but also somebody who has done so much for communities in need,” Daytona International Speedway president Chip Wile said. “J.J. is one of the best players currently in the NFL and now he’s going to be our Grand Marshal. … It’s a spectacular pairing.”

William Byron will start the 200-lap, 500-mile race on the pole, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman will start alongside Byron on the front row. The rest of the 40-car starting lineup will be determined in Thursday night’s two Gander RV Duels, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

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