Honorary pace car driver Mario Andretti will have a lot of stellar company around him for this Sunday’s race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
Speedway officials announced Thursday that four of the five NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020 inductees will serve as grand marshals for the race.
Former drivers Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, team owner and Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs and crew chief and noted engine builder Waddell Wilson will give the command to start engines for the cutoff race in Round 1 of the Cup Series playoffs.
The fifth member of next year’s Hall of Fame class, Buddy Baker, passed away in 2015.
The race will be televised live on NBC starting with Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. ET. Drivers will take the checkered flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET.
NASCAR’s throwback weekend reaches a crescendo with tonight’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Paint schemes that pay tribute to such drivers as Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and Tim Richmond and cars from “Days of Thunder” and “Stroker Ace” will circle the track.
Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given at 6:07 p.m. by 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Waddell Wilson along with Jose Armario, Bojangles’ CEO. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 6:15 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions are at 5:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 6 p.m. by Dr. Bill Curtis, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Darlington, South Carolina. Edwin McCain will perform the National Anthem at 6:01 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 367 laps (501.3 miles) around the 1.366-mile short track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 5:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 5 p.m and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.
FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts a high of 81 degrees with a 41% chance of scattered thunderstorms at the start of the race.
LAST TIME: Brad Keselowski won last year’s Southern 500. Joey Logano finished second. Kyle Larson placed third.
TO THE REAR: Kyle Busch (engine change), Aric Almirola (backup), Reed Sorenson (transmission change), Joe Nemechek (unapproved adjustments) and BJ McLeod (unapproved adjustments)
STARTING LINEUP: Southern 500 lineup
Social media quickly rose to congratulate the five men named Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.
Here are some of the more noteworthy posts from Twitter:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who took NASCAR by storm after transitioning from open-wheel racing, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 on Wednesday.
Stewart’s election comes two days after his 48th birthday.
Joining Stewart in the Class of 2020 are: Joe Gibbs, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.
The class, the eleventh elected to the Hall of Fame, will be inducted on Jan. 31, 2020.
Edsel Ford won the Landmark Award.
Stewart was selected on 88% of the 57 ballots cast. Gibbs and Wilson were selected on 72%, Baker was on 70% and Labonte was on 67%.
The next three top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.
Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Labonte and Stewart.
MORE: Nate Ryan reveals his Hall of Fame ballot.
“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.
“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”
When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.
“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.
A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).
In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.
Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.
Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.
Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.
Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”
“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”
Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.
“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”
Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.
Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.
Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.
Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.