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Astronaut Doug Hurley to give Monday’s Talladega command from space

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Astronaut Doug Hurley, currently 250 miles above Earth on board the International Space Station as commander of SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 (DM-2) spaceflight, will give the command to fire engines for Monday’s GEICO 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Talladega, NASCAR’s longest track, will be one of the first sports venues to have a return of fans — up to 5,000 — in attendance. The GEICO 500, set for a 3 p.m. ET start, will be broadcast live on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Chase Elliott is the race’s defending champion.

TALLADEGA: Weekend schedule | Starting lineup | Fans allowed

DM-2 is the first crewed spaceflight launched from American soil since STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle program, in July 2011. Hurley, a longtime NASCAR fan, served as pilot for that mission. DM-2 also represents history’s first crewed commercial flight.

Hurley is a veteran of one other spaceflight — STS-127 in July 2009. A native of Endicot, New York, who considers nearby Apalachin his hometown, Hurley is a graduate of Tulane University and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Prior to joining NASA as a member of the 2000 astronaut candidate class, he was a test and fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was the Grand Marshal of the 1994 summer Talladega 500. Aldrin added a personal touch in commanding the drivers to start their engines, stating, “Gentlemen, energize your groundcraft.”

NASCAR’s modified event procedures, protocols and number of attendees for the GEICO 500 have been finalized with guidance from public health officials, medical experts and local, state and federal officials. In order to adhere to local social-distancing guidelines, the limited number of guests will be allowed in the frontstretch grandstands and towers. In addition, there will be limited motorhome and fifth-wheel camping spots — 44 — available outside the track high atop the Alabama Superstretch.

The GEICO 500 will be the anchor event of the weekend, which will also feature a doubleheader Saturday. The General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series gets the green flag at 2 p.m. ET, followed by the Unhinged 300 at for the NASCAR Xfinity Series at 5:30 p.m. ET. Both events will compete without fans in attendance but will be broadcast live on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.