Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead the field to green next weekend in the Indianapolis 500.
However, If Indianapolis Motor Speedway had gotten its way, someone else would drive the pace care at the 103rd running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
IMS on Friday revealed that Earnhardt, who never has been to the Indy 500 in all his years of being around motorsports, will pilot the Corvette Grand Sport pace car at The Brickyard. The retired NASCAR star took to Twitter to show his appreciation.
Now, Earnhardt absolutely should feel honored. Driving the pace car in one of the most iconic races on the planet is no small thing.
But check out this background story:
“Al Roker was planning to be in the pace car, and he had a conflict with his schedule that came up at the last minute,” Earnhardt recently told For The Win. “They were looking for someone to take that opportunity, and they thought of me. So I was pretty honored and surprised that I was the next choice. I’ll take it!”
Being a contingency plan for one of the hosts of NBC’s “Today?” That’s got to feel a little weird.
That said, Earnhardt knows this isn’t about him.
“There’s a respect you have to have for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, respect you have to have for the drivers that are going to be competing that day. And that is their stage, this is their big event, and I’m a NASCAR driver. That’s my history, and I’m coming into their world.
“So it’s definitely a unique dynamic, but everybody’s been really supportive. And I’ve seen a lot of social media support from other drivers, and all that really means a lot to me. I’m glad that they feel comfortable with that.”
The 2019 Indy 500 takes place next Sunday at 12:19 p.m. ET.
By the way, Earnhardt will be joined in the NBC broadcast by none other than Danica Patrick.