Manning will lead the field off pit road, driving the pace car in the laps just before the start of the race Sunday. He will start the pace car at the direction of Earnhardt, who is giving the command to start engines prior to the race at Daytona International Speedway.
The track announced in November that Earnhardt would serve as the race grand marshal and deliver the command. Track officials announced Manning’s role Tuesday. Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron will wave the green flag to start the race.
— Daytona International Speedway (@DISupdates) February 13, 2018
“Serving as the honorary pace-car driver will be a truly unique and exciting experience,” Manning said in a news release.
Manning, who retired from the NFL after the 2015 season, and Earnhardt, who retired from NASCAR Cup racing after the 2017 season, became friends over the years, as both have endorsement deals with Nationwide.
Earnhardt even delivered a message to the company in his retirement announcement: “I’m just going to say what everyone else here in the room is thinking — your brilliant use of the retired Peyton Manning is to be commended, if not replicated.”
Their connection brought the former NFL star quarterback to the April 2016 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt helped introduce the sport to Manning.