Rahal “surprised” that Dale Jr. responded to idea of ride swap

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Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal certainly knows that a ride swap with fellow National Guard-backed driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. could potentially go down as a big event.

But as the driver of the No. 15 Honda-powered Dallara said this morning in an INDYCAR teleconference, he posed the idea to NASCAR’s most popular driver as simply a matter of having fun.

“I threw that out there as something I really wanted to do,” Rahal said. “I was surprised he responded…Media-wise, for sponsor exposure, it could be tremendous for them. But I also thought it’d be something fun to do.

“I know there’s been a lot of guys that have always expressed interest in jumping in an IndyCar. Obviously, Kurt Busch is going to do that here in the Month of May, but I know Jimmie Johnson and others [have shown interest] so I thought, ‘You know what, we have a tie here now, so let’s see.'”

Rahal and Earnhardt tweeted mutual interest in the idea on Sunday evening following the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, which Rahal attended in person. Since then, the idea has taken off among fans, tracks, and media alike.

In a media event today at Charlotte Motor Speedway that featured Earnhardt driving Elvis Presley’s 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III (the last car that the rock ‘n roll legend ever drove in public) into the track’s media center, his car owner, Rick Hendrick, seemed open to the idea – to a point:

However, Earnhardt himself raised the biggest possible hurdle: The fact that he, a Chevy driver and spokesman, would have to drive Rahal’s Honda.

That said, Kurt Busch is also a Chevy driver in the Sprint Cup Series, and yet he’ll be driving an Andretti Autosport Honda at Indianapolis as part of an attempt at “The Double” – running both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day.

Additionally, Hendrick brought up that the 2003 ride swap between his driver Gordon and then-F1 driver Montoya saw them use different manufacturers.

Granted, Hendrick appears to have misspoken, as Montoya’s F1 ride was a BMW-powered Williams. Still, the point stands – while manufacturers certainly have pride in their own drivers, they can see the big picture with events like this.

Alonso would be ‘very happy’ to finish F1 career with McLaren

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Fernando Alonso says he would be “very happy” to see out his Formula 1 career with McLaren after signing a new multi-year contract with the British team, announced on Thursday.

Alonso, 36, ended speculation about his future by agreeing a new deal with McLaren, hopeful of returning to the front of the field next year when the team swaps Honda power for Renault engines.

Alonso admitted to considering options outside of F1 before agreeing to stay at McLaren, and was thought to only be chasing a one-year extension in order to be in a position to snap up a more attractive seat in the volatile 2019 market.

However, Alonso confirmed in an interview with the official F1 website that the deal with McLaren stretched beyond the end of next year, adding he would be content to see out his time in the sport with the team.

“I never talk about contracts, but one thing I can say is it is a long-term partnership,” Alonso said.

“I am very happy to finish my career at McLaren. So I don’t think it is going to be only one year.”

Alonso also revealed he had options with teams high up the field in F1 for 2018 just a couple of months ago, but was always leaning to staying at McLaren despite not scoring a podium with the team in almost three years.

“There were some other options in F1. In the summer there were still some options at the top teams, but my desire was to stay with McLaren,” Alonso said.

“But at that time they were in conversation with different engine suppliers, so I had to give them time to sort out their situation.

“Then McLaren opted for a Renault engine which delayed my decision, because I had to understand what Renault’s plans were for next years.

“But when I had everything on the table, everything was pretty clear.”