Fernando Alonso makes a pit stop in NASCAR country to talk racing

Fernando Alonso explains the challenges of learning the prototype he will race this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Mike McCarn/AP Photo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Fernando Alonso wants to return to the Indianapolis 500. He wants to race LeMans. He won't even rule out a try, or at least a test, in a NASCAR stock car.

He loves to race, and he will do so this weekend in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a 24-hour sports car race that kicks off the international motorsports calendar. It will be a weekend that helps him prepare for a Formula One season in which the expectations are much higher with the McLaren switch from Honda to Renault power.

There is another reason to do it: It is a more fun way to train for the Formula One season.

"It's a way of preparing yourself," Alonso said Tuesday. "I'm used to spending January and February preparing physically for the season, doing training camps ... training the neck with weights, with elastics.

"Now I have the opportunity to train those muscles and to get into the racing spirit in the car and racing some of the best racers in the world. It's a nice preparation and nice warm-up of the season in F1."

Alonso is looking forward to his new F1 horsepower, and the plan to be that much stronger means no thought of skipping an F1 race to compete at Indianapolis in 2018.

"Hopefully the last three years will be forgotten very quickly," Alonso said. "It's a completely different game for us. We believe that we could be very, very competitive with a Renault power unit next year.

"All the preparations of the new car, it is looking much, much [more] promising than before. Our hopes for next year are very high. ... Definitely the mood of the team is completely different."

Alonso spent Tuesday with a trip into the heart of NASCAR country, as he made a stop at the NASCAR preseason media days in Charlotte, North Carolina. NASCAR owns IMSA, the sanctioning body of the Rolex 24, and the two-time Formula One champion relished the chance to meet seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

"The first time I heard his name was probably 2003 [or] 2004 in a NASCAR video game," Alonso said. "I used to choose him, not knowing him or not knowing the name. Just because of the car. You see all the cars, and I remember playing with another friend of mine that likes one chocolate company that I will not name.

"He was choosing that car, and I was choosing Jimmie's car. Obviously, the success he had in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport and have massive respect."

The rest of the week for Alonso will focus on the sports car race, for which practice and qualifying are Thursday, more practice will be Friday and the 24-hour marathon begins Saturday afternoon. Joining Alonso in driving the Ligier LMP2 prototype will be McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris and sports car racer Phil Hanson on the team put together by McLaren boss Zak Brown.

"I'm doing this because I love racing, and I love competing," Alonso said. "If those races and that competition happens in iconic places and big names in motorsport like Daytona Speedway, it's even more attractive.

"I was the one telling Zak if there was still some seat available for the Daytona 24, and in 10 minutes, we managed to finish everything [to do it]."

Alonso has one other non-F1 event on his radar: LeMans remains a possibility for this year.

"It is one thing I would like to do," Alonso said. "I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and LeMans is one of the top races. One day I would like to do it. If that day will be this year or not, it's to be discussed."

Driving in the Rolex this weekend would give him a good foundation, making him comfortable in doing LeMans amid the Formula One schedule.

"There are many, many new things that we are experiencing in the prototype car: driving at night, driving with traffic, driver changes," Alonso said.

"[There are] many new things that I feel if you experience once, like we are doing this weekend in Daytona, eventually if you are in LeMans one day, it will not be new, and it will be a massive help."

Although not a possibility this year, another Indianapolis 500 is something Alonso would like to do following an impressive outing in 2017 before a sour engine ended his day.

"2018 is not happening," Alonso said of the Indy 500. "Not a clear target [date], but definitely the wish is to come back. While I'm in F1, it will be difficult because it is always together with Monaco.

"When I'm not in F1, I would like to repeat the experience. It was a fantastic atmosphere, a fantastic weekend, and to live those moments again is one of the targets and hopefully as soon as possible."

He said that after feeling competitive in the Indianapolis 500 and going endurance racing this weekend, maybe he would one day try another series, such as NASCAR.

For the time being, the NASCAR idea is a big maybe.

"Right now, it looks quite far because I think the driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it's quite difficult for me to achieve that level," Alonso said. "But I will never know until I try. I would like maybe one day to test a car, and after that, driving the car, I probably will know how enjoyable it would be racing.

"From the outside, the races [at Daytona] are great because they are always in a group. It is not predictable at all. Until the last lap, you don't know what is going to happen. We love that from watching from the outside, but I don't know from the inside."