Barbieri reflects on his final race for Firestone

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Joe Barbieri’s tenure of more than 40 years with Firestone, and in his tenth as manager of motorsports for the company, comes to an end this weekend in St. Petersburg.

Long regarded as one of the two faces of Bridgestone and Firestone’s motorsports efforts in North America along with executive director Al Speyer, Barbieri has his last race this weekend.

“It really is hard to describe,” he told MotorSports Talk on Friday. “I have mixed emotions. I’m looking forward to all the plans in the future, but I’m really going to miss this place. I believe I have one of the best jobs in this business. People say I’m crazy to give it up, but it’s been a great ride.”

Barbieri recalled some of his favorite moments from his racing career, beginning when Firestone re-entered North American open-wheel racing and the PPG IndyCar Series in 1995.

“I guess one of the best, or worst, was the first year we came in 1995 when we almost won the Indianapolis 500,” said Barbieri, who was a project supervisor at that time. “We still won two races (oval races at Michigan and Loudon, N.H. with Scott Pruett and Andre Ribeiro, respectively). Then in 1996 and ’97, to come back and win the Indianapolis 500 was absolutely wonderful.”

An Akron, Ohio native, Barbieri began his career with the company in 1972. He has been involved in the Bridgestone Motorsport and Firestone Racing programs since 1987 and has served as a project supervisor since 1994.

Barbieri’s role as manager, motorsports for Bridgestone Americas will be taken by Rodreich Von Stotsenburg, or Rod for short.

IndyCar will hold a reception for Barbieri Saturday evening in the paddock.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).