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.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.