Dakar: Ales Loprais strikes a blow for MAN; Nikolaev falls out of overall truck lead

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With the motorcycle and quad racers taking a rest day, Saturday marked the beginning of a two-day “marathon” stage for the car and truck categories.

But while the car racers went uphill into Bolivia, the truckers embarked on a separate, dune-filled 335-kilometer stage in Chile.

Leading up to Saturday, KAMAZ had scored wins in the last five consecutive stages after Iveco’s Hans Stacey won the opener.

But KAMAZ couldn’t run the streak to six thanks to the efforts of MAN’s Ales Loprais (pictured). The Czech pilot took a five-minute, 39-second victory in Stage 7 over Iveco’s Gerard de Rooy.

However, perhaps an even bigger story on Saturday is the end of KAMAZ driver Eduard Nikolaev’s reign atop the overall truck standings.

Nikolaev had won back-to-back-to-back stages, but on Saturday, he lost more than an hour along the way.

With the stumble, Nikolaev is now fourth on the big board at almost 45 minutes behind new leader Ayrat Mardeev (fifth on Saturday).

Mardeev’s overall lead currently sits at more than 22 minutes over defending Dakar truck champ Andrey Karginov, while Dmitry Sotnikov has leaped slightly ahead of Nikolaev for the third spot.

KAMAZ still has a lock on the front four positions overall, while Loprais leads the MAN camp in fifth at 1 hour, 11 minutes back.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 7 highlights on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. ET.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).