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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 

Simon Pagenaud’s engineer relives 2019 Indy 500 victory on Twitter

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The Team Penske engineer for last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner is reliving Simon Pagenaud’s day by tweeting about what he was doing each moment a year later.

Starting with an observation that he awoke in his Indianapolis hotel room at 4:30 a.m., Ben Bretzman (@benbretzman) sent nearly two dozen tweets by 11 a.m. ET about how the morning before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 unfolded.

Bretzman was through the infield tunnel and in Gasoline Alley by 6 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., he was wondering if his driver was awake yet, but he had heard for the first time from Pagenaud 45 minutes later.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, NBC

FIERCE FRIENDSHIPPagenaud, Rossi recall epic battle of 2019 Indy 500

Among other highlights: The team’s last strategy meeting was at 8:30 a.m.; final check of the weather was at 9:30 a.m. and Bretzman gave the No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet a once-over at 10:35 a.m. before it was pushed to the grid.

Follow @BenBretzman to watch the day unfold from the pit box and tune into “Back Home Again at 2 p.m. ET on NBC as Pageanud and Alexander Rossi, who are good friends off the track, recap their epic duel with host Mike Tirico.

Simon Pagenaud and engineer Ben Bretzman debrief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IndyCar photo by Joe Skibinski).