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.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski