Joao Barbosa’s passion for racing made possible by IMSA

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In his first Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car race in 1999, Joao Barbosa earned a class win at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. He went on to score class poles in his next three races. Since then, his career has been inextricably linked to sports car racing and IMSA.

But it was not until his time with Brumos Racing in 2007 that Barbosa claims as the true turning point in his career.

“The most defining moment of my career was when I moved to the U.S. and started racing with Brumos Racing,” Barbosa told the NASCAR America crew on Thursday. “I was able to do some races with Hurley Haywood. Then I was probably the right time in the right spot, which doesn’t happen very often with me – when Hurley decided to retire from racing and I was there.  And they said, ‘why don’t you just jump into Hurley’s seat.’ ”

In the Rolex Grand-Am Series, Barbosa scored 12 wins. Since the series has become the Weathertech Sports Car Championship Series, he’s added nine more with at least one win per year in the first five seasons.

“IMSA has been the most important part of my career … that’s where my career has been; that’s where my heart has been. I couldn’t be in a better spot to race right now,” Barbosa said.

The 2019 campaign did not get off to the start he wanted. Experiencing technical issues at the beginning of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, he ultimately lost 20 laps to the lead and finished seventh in class.

“Last year, we had a really good Rolex 24 – we won the race – we had a terrible Sebring 12 Hour race,” Barbosa said. “This year, we had a not-so-good 24 so hopefully we’ll catch up on Sebring.”

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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).