Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou (left) met NASCAR legend Richard Petty Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Bruce Martin Photo)
Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou (left) met NASCAR legend Richard Petty Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Bruce Martin Photo)

Alex Palou Gets His First Dose Of NASCAR

CONCORD, N.C. – Alex Palou got to meet “The King” and “James Bond” in his trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.
 
Palou, the recently crowned NTT IndyCar Series champion, has been on his victory lap tour ever since he clinched the title in the season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sept. 26. The 24-year-old driver from Spain, joined by his girlfriend Esther, were invited to attend Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 by team owner Chip Ganassi.
 
Shortly after Palou arrived in the NASCAR Cup Series garage area, Richard Petty heard the reigning IndyCar Series champion was there. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and seven-time Daytona 500 winner went over to Palou, introduced himself, shook his hand and welcomed him to NASCAR.
 
A few hours later, Palou met actor Daniel Craig, the most recent actor to portray James Bond in the highly successful movie franchise. Craig, one of the world’s most sought-after movie stars, was the honorary starter of Sunday’s NASCAR playoff race. He reprises his role as James Bond in the recently released film “No Time to Die.”
 
Palou’s brush with fame actually began Saturday night when he attended his first concert headlined by Pitbull at the nearby PNC Music Pavilion., 
 
On Monday, Palou toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte, N.C., to learn more about the history of stock car racing.
 
Palou admitted feeling a bit star struck in his weekend trip to Charlotte. But deep-down Palou is a racer, and he wanted a chance to experience a NASCAR race in person. He watched Sunday’s race from the Chip Ganassi Racing’s pit box.
 
“Here we are, it’s my first NASCAR race as a fan,” Palou told SPEED SPORT after his arrival on Sunday morning. “I think the ROVAL is amazing. I’ve done some laps on the simulator with an Indy car on the ROVAL and I think it is an amazing track. It would be amazing to have this course on our schedule.
 
“You have the oval world and the road course, and it gives an amazing show to the fans. The course may be short, but I think we would put on an amazing show. You have so many overtaking spots and it’s fast with high-braking zones. I think it would be enough for us. It would be a hybrid between a road course and a street course. I think there would be lots of passing and overtakes with the long straights and chicanes. It would be insane to drive and race here.
 
“We are IndyCar, and we can race everywhere.”
 
Palou got to watch NASCAR technical inspection and meet with the NASCAR engineers and mechanics at Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR team.
 
“To see the operation from the inside is an opportunity I couldn’t miss and an opportunity not too many people have,” Palou said.
 
It also gave the IndyCar driver a chance to get a good look at a beast of a racing machine, a NASCAR stock car. It is much bigger and far different than any race car Palou has ever driven.
 
“I think there is nothing close to a NASCAR stock car,” Palou said. “The only car with a roof I drove was a GT3 car, but it is very different to a NASCAR stock car. I was at the team’s shop earlier Sunday morning and saw the inside of the car and the mechanical side of the car and there is nothing in racing quite like it.
 
“The car is huge. It’s mind-blowing. It’s a really big car. That is what makes NASCAR so amazing on track. Lots of weight. Lots of power and it’s difficult for the drivers to handle.”
 
Palou would love to take a NASCAR stock car for a spin, but not necessarily in a race.
 
“Of course,” Palou said “I’m a racing driver and I like to drive cars. I would like and love to test a car but not race it. I love to race single-seaters and I love to race IndyCar. It’s a completely different world what they do here and what I do in IndyCar. I would love to drive it and test it to know how it feels and handles.
 
“I would love to feel how it is to brake in a braking zone four-times the length of an Indy car. I don’t know what it is like to brake that long and manage a car for that long. I would love to one day experience that and drive the car for three of our laps.”
 
Palou spoke with his IndyCar teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who was a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion before he retired from stock car racing and took a new career path in IndyCar. Johnson recently completed his rookie season at Chip Ganassi Racing and took his Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on Oct. 6 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
 
“He loved it,” Palou said of Johnson. “He said the speed is amazing and the difference he felt between the NASCAR car and the Indy car is so fast. I think he is going to love it when he has a chance to open it up and run at top speed at Indy.”
 
Palou was surprised that he was recognized in the NASCAR Cup Series garage area by many people.
 
“It was more than I thought and that is good,” Palou said. “I think that is part of what comes with being a champion. I’m happy to be here enjoying a NASCAR race.
 
“As the champion, I get recognized a bit more than I used to. I’m happier than normal, but that’s about it. It didn’t change me much. I’m feeling super comfortable and confident for next year because I will have more experience.”
 
Palou loves to celebrate his victories and a championship with fried chicken. The Spaniard finds the culinary dish unique to the United States and admitted before he leaves Charlotte, he plans to pay regional friend chicken chain Bojangles a personal visit for the famed fried chicken and biscuits.
 
“Oh yeah, I’ll have to,” Palou said. “We don’t have that in Indianapolis and I’ll have to go back to Indianapolis with some Bojangles.”

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