Chevrolet VP has open mind about possible Dale Earmhardt Jr. – Graham Rahal car swap

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The ball – or in this case, the steering wheel – is in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s court now.

If Junior truly wants to swap rides in an exhibition with fellow National Guard-sponsored Graham Rahal and his IndyCar open-wheeler, he’ll have to ask first.

That’s what Jim Campbell, Chevrolet VP/Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, told The Associated Press.

Campbell said the manufacturer would keep an open mind if Earnhardt officially stepped forward to swap rides with Rahal.

“If we get a proposal, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll look at it with an open set of eyes. The rest is hypothetical,” Campbell told AP. “Broadly speaking about any Chevy driver that is currently on our roster, if they decided to go race in another category or series, of course we’d love to see them in Chevys. There’s no doubt about that.

“In some cases it works out like that, and in some cases it doesn’t.”

Earnhardt said last week that he didn’t think the swap would happen because he drives for Chevy while Rahal drives a Honda-powered IndyCar, which is Chevy’s chief rival in the open-wheel series.

“I think the fact (Rahal) has a relationship with a different manufacturer is going to make it challenging – if not impossible – for me to drive that particular car,” Earnhardt said.

Thus far, there has been no official response from Honda officials whether the manufacturer would allow such a swap. But Rahal, who originally proposed the idea with a tweet to Earnhardt at last week’s Sprint Cup race at Fontana, Calif., remains hopeful that the exhibition trade can occur.

The two drivers would likely drive each other’s cars for a few laps at a site to be determined.

Fan interest, especially on Twitter, has been highly in favor of the proposed deal. National Guard officials said the idea has their support, as well.

Earnhardt may have been a bit premature in pooh-poohing the idea. Fellow Chevrolet-powered Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch will drive a Honda in this year’s Indianapolis 500, and then fly to Charlotte to race his Chevy later that evening in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Busch had originally tested an Indy car with Andretti Autosport last year, when the team was powered by Chevrolet. However, it is powered by Honda this season.

Still, while Chevy officials originally encouraged Busch to drive for Chevrolet-powered IndyCar teams such as those owned by Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, he ultimately chose to stay with the Andretti camp, and Chevy acquiesced the one-off Indy 500 run with Busch in a Honda.

“We had a great two-year run with Andretti Autosport and when he did his original test, Andretti was with Chevy,” Campbell said. “The conversation started when it was a Chevy team, and it just kept going. We’d certainly have liked to see Kurt in a Chevy for the 500, it just didn’t work out.”

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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