Shaquille O'Neal (left), Kevin James (second from right) and Adam Sandler (far right) will be Grand Marshals and give the command to start engines at Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Kevin James, Adam Sandler, Shaquille O’Neal to rock the house at Daytona on Saturday

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In the last decade or so, there arguably has been no better version of the command to start engines prior to a NASCAR race than actor Kevin James.

He not only raised the bar, he sent it into the stratosphere prior to the 2007 Daytona 500.

In 2010, James and good buddy Adam Sandler tried a 1-2 punch (which likely didn’t go over quite as good as they may have hoped) at Michigan Speedway.

Then last October at Talladega, James reprised his 2007 Daytona classic at NASCAR’s other restrictor plate track.

Get ready for James to do it again this Saturday at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. And while he’ll do the start engines command with Sandler again, there’ll be a third member that’ll join the party, none other than the big man himself, Shaquille O’Neal.

All three will give not only give drivers the command to fire their engines, they’ll also serve as the race’s Grand Marshals, while also promoting the July 12 release of their new movie, “Grown Ups 2.”

“We’re pleased to welcome three of the stars of ‘Grown Ups 2’ and have them take part in the pre-race ceremonies for one of NASCAR’s most exciting nighttime races,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said in a statement. “Combining Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Shaquille O’Neal, we’re expecting a boisterous and powerful starting command in front of thousands of race fans and millions more watching on TNT.”

Even if the race winds up being a snoozer, something tells me the pre-race start is going to be unforgettable.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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