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Jimmie Johnson, Fernando Alonso to swap rides for a day

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A random meeting in January will lead to “the chance of a lifetime” for Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson and Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, who met in Charlotte in January during NASCAR’s Media Day, will drive each other’s race cars Nov. 26 at Bahrain.

“He mentioned something there and we just stayed in touch,” Johnson said of where the idea spawned.

This is more than Johnson just jumping into Alonso’s car. Johnson will tour the McLaren shop and test on the team’s simulator.

“We really want to have a full day to experience each other’s cars and mess around,” Johnson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports shipped a car Oct. 9 to go by boat to Bahrain for Alonso to drive. Johnson said the team “packed the container with plenty of tires and equipment to let him run as long as he wants to get the full experience, and they’re offering that same thing to me.”

Johnson said the challenge was to find a place for them to run each other’s car. Originally, they looked at tracks in the U.S., including Indianapolis, Homestead-Miami and Charlotte but schedules didn’t work. Eventually, the idea to do it overseas after the NASCAR and Formula 1 seasons ended made the most sense.

To prepare, Johnson has done additional neck exercises because of the additional G-forces he’ll endure in Alonso’s car. It was a tip Johnson gained from Jeff Gordon, who drove Juan Pablo Montoya’s Formula 1 car in 2003 at Indianapolis.

“In talking with Gordon, he had the ability to run more laps in the setup that they had but his neck wouldn’t let him,” Johnson said. “Our cars, especially on the brakes, we do not create the Gs and we only have a couple of road courses a year, so our neck muscles are pretty far behind (F1 drivers).”

The last time a NASCAR driver and Formula 1 driver switched cars was 2011 with Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s the ultimate car,” Johnson said of why he wants to try the F1 car. “To feel the downforce of one of those cars has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always wanted to experience it.”

For those wondering, Johnson said he has no hint that Alonso is doing this to consider a future racing NASCAR. Alonso will leave F1 after this season. 

“I have seen plenty of chatter about that on social (media),” Johnson said of speculation of Alonso driving some in NASCAR. “He’s not led me to believe any of that. If I was in his shoes and had the opportunity to go drive an oval, I would have taken it if NASCAR was the destination for me. He wants to drive it on the road course. Maybe he has some road course ideas if he was to come. He has not led me to believe in any way shape or form there’s more than this.”

Formula 1 champion wishes Darrell Wallace Jr. good luck in Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Four-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton tweeted a good luck note to Darrell Wallace Jr. a few hours before Wallace competed in his first Daytona 500.

Wallace will become the first African-American to compete in the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott in 1969.

Wallace will start the race seventh in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Wallace posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice.

Hamilton has expressed an interest in NASCAR. He attended the 2015 season finale in Miami to watch Jeff Gordon race for the championship.

Hamilton said last year that he would like to try NASCAR and expressed an interest in competing in the Daytona 500.

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Kligerman: What does it mean to be a racer? Fernando Alonso might know

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In a sudden flurry of tweets and Instagram stories Wednesday, we were flooded with massive news.

Internet meme sensation and two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso would be attempting the Indianapolis 500. Foregoing the champagne popping, mirrored sunglasses and bikini-filled yachts of Monte Carlo, Monaco, for a 2.5-mile rectangular-shaped stretch of asphalt in the flat plains of the Midwestern United States.

Describe it like that, and you might think this is some sort of old European film about an affluent young man heading west to discover America.

But I left out the most important part: Alonso is a racer (aside from being a professional race car driver).

How do I know this?

In his own tweet, accompanied by a painting of the start of an Indy 500, Alonso wrote “I love RACING. I’m just a RACER. Indy 500 here we come!!!” Followed by a series of muscle emojis and hashtags.

Than directly above this tweet he retweeted an Indy 500 champion and one of his new teammates; Ryan Hunter-Reay, who wrote “Welcome to the team @alo_oficial!! The epitome of a true racer. Huge undertaking, big crossover taking it head on. Look fwd to working w/you” (No emojis or hashtags followed.)

At first glance, this seems the beginning of great camaraderie between two top-notch race car drivers, both of whom are under the impression that Alonso is a racer.

It’s a cliche term that I admit to having used a time or two but constantly has left me asking, “What does it mean to be a racer?”

A look at Fernando Alonso’s Twitter avatar provides a good example. Instead of the typical race car driver — firesuit, cool sunglasses and some flashy, edited photo – Alonso is in a go-kart (admittedly it’s a Fernando Alonso Kart).

No super car, no top of the podium from one of his favorite wins at the pinnacle of the sport, not even a workout photo.

Just him in a kart and on a track.

And what is Karting? Karting is where we all start. If you polled all the professional race car drivers in the world, most likely 99 percent would say they started in a kart.

It’s the first point in a race car driver’s life where the gifted start to outshine the pedestrian. It’s racing’s equivalent of the third-grade Saturday morning soccer field. It’s probably the only place and time an eventual professional race car driver competes for one reason: The fun and thrill of driving.

As a driver climbs the ladder, it all becomes muddled with terms such as funding, sponsorship, lack of funding, marketability, perception and (my personal favorite)  talent.

Every move is scrutinized. The more success you have, the more people will surround you to adjust these things. You put up with it because you want to be a pro driver, and this is what it takes.

But pull any pro driver away from the money, fame, parties, yachts and helicopters. Many will confide they enjoyed it most in a kart, racing with their family and friends for the thrill of driving. For the fun.

Why?

Because back then, it was about being only a racer. Which brings us back to Alonso’s avatar.

The significance of being in a kart is this F1 champion’s way of saying “We all put our pants on, one leg at a time.” Admittedly he’s adorned in multimillion-dollar sponsors from his F1 team. It’s this juxtaposition that shows his nostalgia for the days of old.

He is proclaiming in visual form that he is not in Formula One for the “stuff.” He is there because he loves to drive, and he loves to race and the top of that just happens to be in Formula One.

But is that a true racer? Many will say it is. We will see that from the bajillion times Alonso will be called racer over the coming weeks.

I’m not convinced.

Many proclaim the true racers never get to decide to be nostalgic about the days of their accession – because there was no accession. These racers still are racing at the karting track, bombing around dirt tracks and scrounging for the funds to continue. They are working 9-to-5 jobs so they simply can get to the racetrack.

They don’t get the chance to be envious of a less complicated form of racing because they never left it. This is where my questioning of the term develops.

Earlier this year, I tweeted that I had become a massive fan of Fernando Alonso in the last few years. My central reasoning was because of his absolute non-politically correct “I don’t give a @%!#” attitude, none more evident than this year’s preseason testing.

When asked about when the much faster F1 cars in 2017 meant he was flat-out through turn 3 at the Barcelona test, Alonso joked: “Yes, but I think we are full throttle in many corners!” His woefully underpowered McLaren-Honda struggled to reach a speed that necessitated lifting off the throttle.

Combine his current predicament with his comical accuracy in choosing to go to the wrong team at the wrong time, joining McLaren, Renault (again), Ferrari and McLaren (again) just as they were entering slumps.

You are looking at a guy who is arguably the best driver in Formula One — quite possibly in the world. Who should probably have at least double, if not a record-setting number of F1 championships.

Now he has chosen to try something entirely foreign and unique. Those qualities make me believe he is a rarity in modern-day racing — and I am not alone. In a recent Formula One survey by Motorsport.com, Alonso was vying for most popular driver against worldwide media sensation Lewis Hamilton.

So does racing the Indy 500 make Alonso a racer? No. To me, he already was one.

And does it answer the question of what it means to be a racer? No. I think that is in the eye of the beholder.

What I do know, as a race fan and a fellow professional race car driver, is this.

Whatever Fernando Alonso is, the sport only will benefit by having more like him.

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton interested in Daytona 500 effort

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton would like to try his hand at NASCAR one day, saying an entry to the Daytona 500 would be of interest.

The F1 paddock was left stunned on Wednesday when Fernando Alonso announced he would be entering the 101st Indianapolis 500 as part of a joint entry between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

Alonso’s decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix and enter the Indy 500 comes in an era when few F1 drivers sample other series but has got many thinking.

“I think it’s great that a driver is able to do that. I think us drivers should be able to do more than one series,” Hamilton said on Thursday.

“There was a period of time in the past where there were drivers doing multiple series. I think it’s pretty cool that he’s doing it.”

So what would Hamilton like to try his hand at?

NBC Sports writer Nate Ryan wrote a column following Alonso’s announcement that he would like to see Hamilton (among others) try out the Daytona 500 one day – and hit the money, with the Briton admitting he’d like a shot at the race.

“I wouldn’t miss any of the races in F1, definitely continue to do all the races,” Hamilton said.

“I’d like to do MotoGP. I’d like to ride a MotoGP race. Probably a NASCAR race like the Daytona 500 maybe.”

Hamilton is not the only F1 driver to express an interest in NASCAR, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Haas racer Romain Grosjean also flirting with the idea in the past.

Ricciardo has an open invite from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to race with his team in the Xfinity Series one day, something that the Australian is keen to take him up on.

Grosjean, meanwhile, races for the team ran by Stewart-Haas Racing’s co-owner Gene Haas in F1, and tried to secure a run at a road course NASCAR event last year, but could not make it work due to schedule clashes.

Five drivers (plus three) with Formula One ties that we’d like to see race the Daytona 500

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Fernando Alonso’s entry into the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 is the latest mega-crossover in a race that has been famous for them for decades.

With a few notable exceptions (wins by Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt and a 1993 one-off for Al Unser Jr.), the Daytona 500 hasn’t featured as many interlopers from other circuits.

While some major hurdles would need to be cleared to put together a car and team for the 2018 Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, it would be a PR win for NASCAR to add some international flavor to the Great American Race.

Here are five drivers (plus three additions) with Formula One ties that we would like to see race in NASCAR’s crown jewel.

  1. Lewis Hamilton: Based off his attendance at the 2015 Cup finale to watch Jeff Gordon and his car swap with Tony Stewart, the prospect obviously entices him. And with apologies to Alonso and everyone else on this list, Hamilton’s presence at Daytona easily would have the most resonance for NASCAR. His friendship with Gordon and Stewart ensures he would receive a wealth of good advice on drafting tips, and if he were driving a Hendrick- or Stewart-Haas Racing-prepared car, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t contend given the proper training.
  2. Kimi Raikkonen: There’s unfinished business for the incomparably laconic Finn. Raikkonen has said he wants to run a Cup race to put a cap on his 2011 foray into truck/Xfinity at Charlotte Motor Speedway (a planned debut in NASCAR’s premier series at Sonoma that year was dashed by a testing wreck). Based on how he impressed at Charlotte (15th in his first career race on an oval), Raikkonen surely would acquit himself quite well on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval. And his effervescent congeniality no doubt would win over the media center with every mumbled quote.
  3. Nico Rosberg: Hey, what else does the reigning Formula One champion have going on at the moment? Rosberg seemingly would have the most ample time for focusing on learning how to drive a stock car, and the 31-year-old also remains at the height of his powers (23 victories in F1 from 2012-16).
  4. Rubens Barrichello: He has the big-league oval experience from his 2012 season in IndyCar, starting 11th and finishing 10th in the Indianapolis 500.
  5. Mark Webber: The man whose Twitter handle is “@AussieGrit” seems to have the right temperament for tackling a 500-mile race, and he also seems friendly with a few NASCAR blokes.

UPDATE: Naturally, our alert readership brought some notable misses to my attention, so here are 5a and 5b:

Daniel Ricciardo: He ran a No. 3 go-kart as a tribute to “The Intimidator” … which has earned him an open invite from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to race a JR Motorsports car on a road course.

–Haas F1: Obviously, acquiring a ride probably would be easiest for drivers Romain Grosjean (who wanted to run Sonoma last year with Stewart-Haas Racing) and Kevin Magnussen.