The worlds of NASCAR and IndyCar came together at Talladega Superspeedway and Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Sprint Cup Series driver Jamie McMurray slid behind the wheel of IZOD IndyCar star Scott Dixon's No. 9 Target Dallara-Honda IndyCar at Barber, and the pair then took a half-hour bus ride to Talladega, where Dixon took McMurray's No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for some hot laps at Talladega.
Although he indulged in an early spin, McMurray's best of five full-speed laps of the 2.38-mile road course was 1:19.8 – some seven seconds off Dixon's best lap from the IndyCar Open Test at the track earlier this week, but highly creditable for a driver without a lot of pro road racing experience.
“I didn't want to come in,” McMurray told IndyCar.com. “I was excited to drive an IndyCar but I had no idea the experience would be like that. It felt as if I never turned the wheel, it was that smooth. The acceleration was way more than I expected because the horsepower is less than the Cup cars, so I thought the acceleration would be a fair bit less. I couldn't believe how fast the car took off."
After both tests, the two drivers offered their thoughts on the day:
Dixon, on what he told McMurray about Barber: This is one of our toughest circuits, just because it's very narrow. It's quite cold today. There's a bunch of elevation. Elevation's a bit of a pain when you can't see the corners. Jamie's very accomplished, and has raced many different types of cars. I think the toughest part of an IndyCar is the first couple of laps, in terms of getting up to speed on cold tires.
McMurray, on whether he was going to take it easy at Barber: For me, it's all about the experience. It's not about going out and seeing how hard I can drive it, or exactly what the limits are.
McMurray, about getting the chance to drive an IndyCar: When I drove for Chip Ganassi from 2002 to 2005, honestly I don't think I even saw an IndyCar. Never had the opportunity. When I came back here, I told Chip that if there was ever a chance, I'd really like to drive one of those somewhere. I didn't really expect all the media and everyone else to be here on my adventure. I was more wanting to go spend half a day with the team somewhere and really get to test, and see what it's like. But this is a really cool opportunity for me.
Dixon, on how fast an IndyCar could go at Talladega: In this configuration, with the big wings, you'd probably do 170 to 180. But with speedway wings, you'd probably do about 230. Maybe even more than that. Maybe 240 or more.
McMurray, on the car-swapping opportunity: I think it's cool that the racetracks came together and were able to let us help promote those races and make it fun for us. For me, getting to drive this is a great opportunity. It's a lot of money to come and do something like this, so it worked out well that they were already here testing. For Chip to bring his car down to Talladega and let Scott drive it, it's hard to put those two together, because it costs so much money.
Dixon, on the possibility of becoming a Sprint Cup driver: Well, there's no $5 million prize in NASCAR, so no, I'm not going. (laughing) Obviously, I'm intrigued by it. Sprint Cup is a massive sport, and has a huge following. I think the thing that's most intriguing, as you've seen by the people who have tried to make the transition or have made the transition, it's 43 cars that are very, very tight and very, very close. I think the tough part for me would be actually doing the 36 races a year. That's a lot of travel.
McMurray, after spinning out at Barber: It was the slowest corner on the track, and I was just trying to go a little quicker. The car wanted to spin the tires really badly right there, and I probably didn't give it enough time to get the tires warmed up enough. If I had to choose somewhere to spin out there, that was a really good selection, because it didn't cost anything.
McMurray, on the difficulties of driving an IndyCar: I thought the hardest part was just being in the open, and being exposed without a windshield. But that didn't bother me at all. I actually enjoyed being out in the open and not having to look through a visor and a windshield. The hardest adjustment was just knowing how hard you can push, and what the limits are of sliding the car. When we run Watkins Glen or Sonoma, the whole race is about sliding around the corners. After spinning out at about 30mph over there, I was really timid to push the car any harder in the fast corners.
I'm just glad they called me in, because I kept picking up about two seconds a lap. At some point that ends, and you end up dropping a wheel off the track. But I couldn't believe how much more comfortable I got in the car.
The sensation of speed was more in acceleration and braking. The cornering did not feel that much faster, even though it was. The car had so much grip and so much control that when you're going around a corner 30 miles per hour faster than you could in a Cup car, I didn't sense the speed there.
Dixon, after running at Talladega: It was cool. The whole “sitting with a cover over you,” and the seating position, and all the other things that were different in the car, the way the wheel is and how massive it is, all that was fun. This place is massive. I spoke before about how Indy is large as well, but I think the sheer size of this and how it's spread out, when you go out there, you feel really lonely by yourself. It would have been nice to maybe have a few other cars out here and maybe take the restrictor plate off and see the full power of these kinds of cars on a track like this. I really enjoyed it. It was definitely an eye-opener. It was something I'd love to have a go at again.
Dixon, on getting in and out of a stock car: They're pretty hard to get in and out of. I will say that. I thought ours would be more difficult, but you just come from the top and slide in. Here, you've got to go Dukes of Hazzard style and slide through the window.
Dixon, on what was the hardest part of running at Talladega: Going out on the track and running at speed wasn't the most difficult part, because that's not the style of racing that they do at Talladega. It's all about the drafting and the pushing. I'd love to have had a go out there with some other people. Maybe do the tandem thing, and stuff that we've been watching in the Cup races.
On having more respect for Cup drivers: I've always had a ton of respect for the Cup drivers and what they do. As you can see, nobody steps into that series and sets it on fire. They're very accomplished guys. In IndyCar, you have teammates and you sit down after every practice and go over data and try to work out where you can improve. To be honest, no data and teammates, you don't get to see a lot because it's so divided it would make the learning curve tough.