By Matt Weaver — Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal believes the timing and circumstances are just too perfect not to do the much-ballyhooed car swap with his National Guard NASCAR counterpart, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Rahal attended the Auto Club 400 in Fontana on Sunday afternoon with girlfriend Courtney Force and her father, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, John and reached out to Earnhardt after the race, via Twitter, about the possibility of swapping rides somewhere down the line.
For his part, Earnhardt seemed agreeable.
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) March 24, 2014
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 24, 2014
In an exclusive interview with Popular Speed, Rahal says the Twitter exchange was calculated but “100 percent authentic” and something that the second-generation IndyCar ace has wanted to do for quite some time.
“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t want it to happen,” Rahal told Popular Speed. “Dale and I share a sponsor now (National Guard) and my dad (three-time champion, Bobby) and Rick (Hendrick) have always had a great relationship.”
Rahal spoke highly of his afternoon at the Sprint Cup Series race, hanging out with Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and others and decided that his appearance presented the best opportunity to reach out to NASCAR’s most popular driver through his favorite new app.
“Honestly, I’m surprised that he responded,” Rahal said after explaining that he’s never met Earnhardt Jr. “I’m sure he knows who I am because of our fathers’ history and time in the IROC Series but I was genuinely amazed at how quickly and frequently he got back to me.”
Rahal believes the shared National Guard sponsorship makes for a great marketing opportunity for both himself and Earnhardt, allowing for Rahal to knock a machine off his personal bucket list — the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.
“The car is just intriguing,” Rahal said. “I’m just a car guy at heart and they all fascinate me.”
Rahal, who is pushing for the car swap to take place on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is just looking forward to potentially hanging out with Earnhardt, believing that their similarities could establish a fast friendship.
“Certainly, we’ve both dealt with great pressures and media attention about winning races and our relationships,” Rahal said. “We’ve both dealt with the famous fathers, with his dad definitely having the most famous name in NASCAR. And with my dad, we’re right there with Unser, Foyt and Andretti so we have a lot in common.
“The National Guard thing has just given us that extra incentive to reach out because I know they want to do a lot of things between the two of us and I think this could be a lot of fun.”
Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya famously swapped rides at the Indianapolis road course in 2003 when Montoya was competing in Formula 1. Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton did the same thing in 2011 but at Watkins Glen International.
It appears that open-wheel racing and NASCAR may be on a collision course once again with Earnhardt, Rahal and the National Guard.
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