What Might Have Been

If open wheel racing wouldn't have shot itself in the foot ten years ago, the top three finishers in Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400 would have been at Indianapolis last weekend.

Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were the top trio at Richmond. And all three started their careers in open wheel racing.

But rather than climbing the ladder to open wheel's top tier - Indy Cars - each opted for a career in NASCAR. With the state of motorsports today, that decision was a no brainer.

But what a lost opportunity to slip through Indy Car racing's hands.

While Kahne, Stewart and Newman raced in front of a sold-out Richmond crowd Saturday night and millions of television viewers, their Indy Car counterparts raced for the pole at the Brickyard in relative secrecy.

Pole day used to draw 100,000 fans and was as much a wild and crazy party as the 500 in the old days. But in today's open wheel world, about 10,000 hearty fans showed up for Sunday's rain-delayed session to watch the quest to "make" the field, which isn't hard to do when there's only 35 cars to fill out the 33-car starting line-up.

Media attention is nearly non-existent. The weight of this year's Indy coverage has fallen on the shoulders of rookie Danica Patrick, who has the ability to rise above the gender sideshow she's become.

While Tony Kanaan won the pole on Sunday, most general media focused on Patrick's quest for the pole and subsequent run to secure fourth place on the 500's starting grid.

NASCAR has dwarfed the Indianapolis 500, and not just on Memorial Day weekend. Saturday night's Richmond race was the focus of the racing world, not pole qualifying at Indianapolis. The Coca-Cola 600 will easily outdraw Indy television-wise. And while Lowe's Motor Speedway is nearing a sell-out, there are plenty of tickets available for this year's edition of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

But you can't help wonder if cooler heads had prevailed back in 1995 and open wheel racing would not have self-destructed, just how things would look today. Indy Car racing could be full of American-born talent the likes of Kahne, Newman and Stewart..not to mention Casey Mears and a couple of other guys named Gordon - Jeff and Robby.

Instead those names are in NASCAR and Indy is a shadow of its former self.

A pity indeed.

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