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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Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: