At first glance, the upcoming Daytona 500 is a tad reminiscent of an Indianapolis 500 grid.
A slew of drivers who have competed in the Indy 500, four of which are past champions, are making starts in the 50th running of the Daytona 500.
These men are all a part of the recent open-wheel invasion, where drivers from different series such as the Indy Racing League, Formula 1 and Champ Car, etc., come to NASCAR looking for more money, notoriety and a new challenge.
So what does this mean for the Indianapolis 500 in May?
Seemingly, more Indy 500 champs will run (if Villeneuve can qualify on time) in NASCAR's Daytona 500 than the Indy 500 in May.
What does Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, think of this?
Apparently not much, but Fred Nation, his spokesperson said "we wish them good luck."
I couldn't help but wonder if George would contemplate a start time change, yes another, to accommodate or bring back some star power to the Indianapolis 500.
Next year will mark a centennial year for the IMS and having Tony Stewart, among others, enter the race could only help ticket sales and ratings.
A recent conversation with Stewart and George left me thinking Stewart would enter if the timing was right.
"I've learned to never say never ... they do have a big anniversary coming up," Stewart said.
So make the time right George. I realize you're busy reuniting the long and costly split between Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, but you're in the business of creating great races for fans and that would be a race not to miss.
Bringing me back to reality, Nation said IMS won't change the start time for one person and broadcasters have a major say in the start time, which has already been changed on three different occasions in the last three years.
"It's doubtful but remains to be seen," Nation said. "We hope our centennial attracts other racers from different series, but changing the start time to accommodate [Stewart] is unlikely...one fear would be Stewart wouldn't fit in the car."
OK, that's just rude -- not everyone can have the figure of a 12-year-old boy like Dan Wheldon.
Meanwhile, NASCAR fans now have the pleasure of watching the open-wheel drivers attempt to find their footing in stock-car racing much like Montoya did with great success last season; six top-10s and a road course win at Sonoma.
But apparently, some NASCAR fans aren't thrilled with that last statement.
I don't hear them singing "Blame Canada," or throwing beer bottles at Patrick Carpentier, or telling Franchitti to go back to his home, which by the way is now Nashville, Tenn., but some NASCAR traditionalists feel open-wheel drivers, mostly foreign born, are taking rides away from veteran Cup drivers and young short-track racers trying to move up and traditionalist just aren't comfortable with change.
I get that. I see that in the eyes of some, foreign equals un-American.
But realize contrast breeds expansion; diversity translates into growth. Growth turns into greater opportunities for NASCAR fans.
Open-wheelers are in the sport because it's the ultimate place to be; it is by far the most competitive racing in the U.S., if not the world.
And as a driver, you want to be the best and prove you are the best in the best series. If there was an open wheel series that was the best, then they would go there, but obviously there's not.
Contrast breeds expansion and hopefully NASCAR fans can open their minds this season and see the attributes these drivers bring to the sport, aside from funny accents, forward fashion and Ashley Judd.
They are bringing international attention to the sport and creating fans from places that never cared before. They add a different dialogue to Sunday afternoons and give NASCAR purists bragging rights over a following that for years looked down their noses at our traditionally homespun sport calling us, "redneck taxi drivers."
But I will say this, the new class of drivers must come out of the box strong this season, emerge from the bottom of the speed charts. Regardless of nationality or driving history, NASCAR fans get behind talent. If the open-wheelers aren't up to par, they'll be stamping their passports elsewhere looking for rides back in the Indy Racing League.
|31.||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||184.336||48.824|
|36.||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||184.162||48.870|