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Indy needs to draw NASCAR drivers to succeed

5/15/2007 - NASCAR

Some of the Nextel Cup regulars would love to race in the Indianapolis 500 on May 27th, but racing the daily double is no longer an option.

Since the start time for the Indy 500 has moved to later in the day (1 p.m. ET) it is almost impossible to race at Indy, get on a plane to Charlotte and get in your race car in time for the start of the Coca-Cola 600 that evening (5:40 p.m. ET).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials should do everything possible to make it easier for the NASCAR drivers to race at Indy.

Either go back to an earlier start time on Sunday, or even better, move the Indy 500 to the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.

The Indy 500 remains an American classic, but the field of 33 drivers isn't what it used to be. Adding Cup drivers certainly would help.

So who would do it? Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon, two men who've done the double, wouldn't hesitate to race again in the Indy 500.

They wouldn't be alone. J.J. Yeley, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Dave Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger and Indiana native Ryan Newman also would do it under the right circumstances. Juan Pablo Montoya won it in 2000.

And don't forget Jeff Gordon, who spent his high school years only a few miles away from the Brickyard. He grew up dreaming of racing in the Indy 500.

Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has no open-wheel experience, has said in the past he would love to try it. Imagine the interest that would bring, even if he just showed up to test drive one of the cars.

Isn't it worth making the change to get some of these guys in the race?

Strange bedfellows
Roger Penske's biggest obstacle to signing Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't Penske's affiliation with Dodge; it's his long-time association with Miller Brewing Company.

Miller Lite was synonymous with Rusty Wallace as his primary sponsor for years before Kurt Busch took over the No. 2 Dodge for Penske when Wallace retired, last season.

Budweiser is going where Earnhardt goes, unless Bud execs want to give up the best marketing tool in company history.

The Miller folks aren't going to agree to team up with their biggest corporate rival.

Not-so-mighty Mears
Michael Waltrip would top the list if you asked most NASCAR followers which driver is having the worst season in 2007.

But statistically speaking, Casey Mears is the actual bottom-feeder at the moment.

Mears has the fewest points of the 32 drivers who have started all 11 Nextel Cup races this year. He also has fewer points than three drivers who haven't started all 11 races.

What makes it look worse is the fact that Mears is driving a car for Hendrick Motorsports, clearly the best organization in Cup. It is his first year at Hendrick, so Mears needs an adjustment period, but it shouldn't be this bad.

Hang on tight
Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is unique in all motorsports. It's the average of four consecutive bonsai laps at more than 220 mph.

Darren Manning, who qualified last weekend for the 91st running of the event, said it may look like fun, but it's more like torture.

"If you like qualifying here, you're going too slow," Manning said.

Game notes
Al Unser Jr. is driving for racing legend A.J. Foyt at Indy this year, this first time the two Indy greats have teamed up. So has Unser seen the infamous volatile side of Foyt yet?

"All that stuff about A.J.'s temper is not true," Unser said. "Now, if someone gets a little sideways in the garage, he sets 'em straight. That's all. So I'm making sure I don't get sideways."

The real Busch leader
Only 11 Busch Series regulars have raced in all 12 Busch events this season. By Busch regulars, I mean drivers who don't compete full-time in the Cup series.

The top six drivers in the standings are Buschwhackers, full-time Cup drivers moonlighting in Triple-A.

Carl Edwards is going to run away with the Busch championship, just as Kevin Harvick did last year. But the true Busch champion at this point is Bobby Hamilton Jr.

At seventh in the standings, he's the highest ranking Busch regular. Hamilton also drives for a stand-alone Busch team, something that is approaching extinction with the increased involvement of Cup teams.

Qualifying blues
Five drivers who ranked in the top 43 in speed in Nextel Cup qualifying at Darlington did not make the race.

Jeremy Mayfield was 30th in qualifying and went home. The same was true for Ward Burton, who was 33rd, and Mike Bliss, who was 35th.

That's just not right. The top-35 rule for guaranteed spots has to go next season.

Rated rookie
He's a 22-year-old rookie, but some Formula One followers already are starting to compare Lewis Hamilton to F1 legends Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton is the youngest driver ever to lead the standings, a spot he claimed after his third consecutive runner-up finish Sunday in the Spanish Grand Prix.

That record stood for 47 years by Bruce McLaren, founder of the team that Hamilton drives for. Hamilton is the only rookie in F1 history to start his career with four podium finishes.

No rookie has ever won the F1 driver's championship, but Hamilton has a legitimate shot at it. If he does, Hamilton would become the first British driver to win the title since Damon Hill in 1996.

Hamilton hasn't won a race yet, but it will happen soon. Only eight drivers in 58 F1 seasons earned a victory in their first season.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.