Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Great idea to switch rides with Graham Rahal, but likely won’t happen

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Well, it was a great idea while it lasted.

But it appears the much-hyped “trade” of rides between NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and IndyCar’s Graham Rahal may be over before it even really got seriously started.

Earnhardt told The Associated Press that while he’s still up for the challenge – where he’d drive Rahal’s sleek open-wheel ride, while Rahal would pilot Junior’s Sprint Cup car in some type of exhibition event – there’s one obstacle that will likely prevent the exhibition.

Namely, the manufacturer of each other’s regular rides.

Earnhardt told the AP that even though he and Rahal are both sponsored by the National Guard, the fact they drive cars powered by different manufacturers is likely going to be difficult, if not downright impossible, to overcome.

Earnhardt’s stock car is powered by Chevrolet, while Rahal’s Indy car is powered by Honda – and both manufacturers go head-to-head, if not wheel-to-wheel, in the IndyCar Series.

It would not be good PR for Honda if Rahal were to beat Earnhardt in Junior’s Chevrolet, nor would it be good for Chevy if Junior were to beat Rahal in his own Honda.

Even if something like this makes sense from a promotional and goodwill value, if you know anything about the uber-competitive nature of the racing business both on and off the racetrack, to quote the late poet Rudyard Kipling, “never the twain shall meet.”

“Well, he drives a Honda, which is more than just a speed bump,” Earnhardt said Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “If I wanted to drive an Indy car, I’m sure I could get with Penske or somebody who owned a Chevy and take a couple laps somewhere. But it would have been fun to do that with Graham because of the relationship with our sponsor and the history of our families.

“I look forward to meeting him one day, but I think the fact he has a relationship with a different manufacturer is going to make it challenging — if not impossible — for me to drive that particular car.”

Several drivers have switched rides for exhibitions that were well-received. Back in 1991 at Michigan International Speedway, NASCAR’s Bill Elliott took an eight-lap spin in CART’s Eddie Cheever’s open-wheeler and hit 210.5 mph, prompting team owner Chip Ganassi to say of Elliott at the time,  “if he ever decides to come up here (to switch from NASCAR to CART), there’s a car waiting on him.” (see video below at the 1:49.40 mark).

Other more recent swaps have pitted then-Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya vs. NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, and more recently, NASCAR’s Tony Stewart vs. F1’s Lewis Hamilton.

But while Junior may think it’s a no-go, don’t give up just yet, Rahal and Earnhardt fans. Their respective bosses, Rick Hendrick and Bobby Rahal, aren’t quite ready to douse cold water on the idea.

“I don’t know really if it’s that big of a deal, BMW vs. Chevrolet, Honda vs. Chevrolet,” Hendrick said. “I haven’t talked to Chevrolet. If (Earnhardt) is really serious about doing it, then we need to talk to them. I’m fine with it.

“I think if he wants to do that, it’s fine. Not race, but get out and just play. Bobby is a good friend of mine, and I’ve known him for a long time and I think those kind of things are good for our sport and for the open-wheel guys, too. We have the same sponsors, so it all kind of works.”

The elder Rahal, who won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and was a three-time CART champ, also competed in one NASCAR Winston Cup event in his career (crashed in 1984 at Riverside, completed just 44 of 119 laps), agreed.

“We aren’t promoting Honda and we aren’t promoting Chevrolet,” Rahal said. “We’re promoting National Guard, so I think it should be about the sponsor and there shouldn’t be an issue with the cars.”

Even though Earnhardt thinks otherwise, the younger Rahal is hoping something can still work out.

“Media-wise, for sponsor exposure, I think it would be tremendous for (National Guard),” Graham Rahal said. “But I also thought it would be something that would be fun to do.

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NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

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F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.