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Has virtual racing given Jimmie Johnson a head start on IndyCar?

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Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was set to have his first test in an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on April 6. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world.

Instead, Johnson will take to the Barber Motorsports Park road course in a virtual Indy car on Saturday.

He won’t be driving the Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet on the actual course but will get a chance to learn the course Saturday at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the second race in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

NTT IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal believes Johnson will be competing in a limited number of races next season once his full-time NASCAR Cup career concludes at the end of this season.

Meantime, Rahal is trying to encourage Johnson to compete in the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that is scheduled for July 4.

The COVID-19 pandemic and whether the virus has been contained by then will determine when sports return.

Johnson joins the full field of NTT IndyCar Series drivers for the second week in a row Saturday at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

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“I think it’s been great to have Jimmie cross over,” Rahal said Friday in answering a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I think Jimmie is a tremendous guy who is so well-respected in our sport. To have him come and race at Watkins Glen last week was big. He will be better at Barber than Watkins because he practiced a lot. Jimmie was on the sim a ton. He was expecting to test there in April with Robbie Wickens’ team (Arrow McLaren SP). I know he spent a ton of time on the sim.”

Rahal believes iRacing sets up a unique opportunity where drivers from series around the world can try a different style of racing and compete against the regulars from that series. Rahal would consider running a NASCAR race on iRacing in the future, but so far, those races have featured drivers from NASCAR’s top three national touring series.

“If we can cross over and do more over there, too, it would be great,” Rahal said. “I’ll admit, I think it’s not a fixed setup, I don’t know how they’re doing it, but if it’s not a fixed setup in the simulator itself, it would be tricky for any of us to go out there and figure it out. We have no clue of what to do or where to go.

“I tried to drive a Cup car last night at a couple of places. Never driven anything that handled worse in my life. I texted Jimmie at midnight and said. ‘Dude, I hope this is not real.’

“Again, the reason is because I don’t even have a setup. I just click on it and you just go. It is what it is. If those guys had a fixed setup, we could go race with them. They could come over here and race with us. We do utilize fixed setups. I think it would be a lot of fun.

“This is a time where we can think outside the box. Why not? It doesn’t do any harm.”

Team Penske driver Will Power supports Rahal’s idea.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series, like we have with Jimmie Johnson from NASCAR and Scott McLaughlin from V8 Super Cars,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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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).