By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
For decades drivers from all around the world have been enamored with the Indianapolis 500, more specifically, NASCAR drivers. Many of whom grew up hoping one day to compete in the historic event.
Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch are just some of the notable names that have competed in the Indy 500.
Busch made his IndyCar debut two years ago in the 2014 race at the Brickyard, starting 12th and finishing an impressive sixth en route to winning Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors.
Stewart was an IndyCar (then Indy Racing League) champion before ever making the full switch to NASCAR in 1999. The native Hoosier last ran the Indy 500 in 2001, never finishing better than fifth in five career starts.
Gordon is likely the one among them that was the closest to Indy 500 glory. Like Stewart, Gordon was an open wheel racer prior to stepping into NASCAR, but that didn’t sway the versatile driver from competing at the 2.5-mile oval. In 1999, Gordon was leading late and appeared to have the race won, but ran out of fuel while coming to take the white flag.
Several NASCAR drivers have competed, but none have tasted the illustrious milk that is served in Victory Lane. That statistic isn’t keeping them from trying though.
This year being the 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has only elevated the prestige for an already pinnacle event.
So, where are the NASCAR drivers? Who could possibly be the one to carry the banner for them on May 29, 2016 in Speedway, Indiana?
Busch recently announced that he won’t return this year, so he’s out.
Stewart is still rehabbing from an offseason accident that has kept him on the sidelines in his final Sprint Cup season and has publicly stated he will never enter in the Indy 500 ever again, so he’s out.
One has to wonder if recently retired four-time Sprint Cup champion turned NASCAR ON FOX analyst Jeff Gordon might run at Indy. Since his retirement, Jeff has consistently denied that he will compete in the 100th running, but perhaps it’s just smoke and mirror treatment to keep the media at bay. If the future NASCAR Hall of Famer were to run at Indy, it would certainly make more sense now than a few years from now – although being in ‘racing shape’ doesn’t matter all that much with a nearly a full month of preparation leading up to the event. That said, if the four-time Sprint Cup champion were looking for a May ride at the Brickyard, it’s pretty safe bet that legendary car owner Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi would open up a seat for JG.
In a recent article by RACER, Marshall Pruett confirmed Brian Vickers and Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports have discussed the opportunity at putting something together for Indy. However, several factors remain up in the air with Vickers. Currently, the former XFINITY Series champion is splitting substitute duties with Ty Dillon in Stewart’s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. If Stewart returns by then or if Dillon is in the car for Charlotte, it makes the possibility for Vickers to make his first appearance in an Indy car all the more likely.
Let’s not forget about Danica Patrick.
The former IndyCar star turned NASCAR driver has seven starts at Indy and even finished a career-high third in 2009. NASCAR’s leading female has denied in the past about pulling the “Memorial Day Double,” racing the Indy 500 in the early part of the day and flying to Charlotte immediately after to race in the Coca Cola 600 that same evening. If there ever was a race to reconsider coming back to, the 100th running would surely have to be on that list.
A decision of this magnitude would have to make sense for Patrick, meaning she shouldn’t race in it unless it was with a solid enough team.
A return to Andretti Autosport for a one race deal seems possible for the 2005 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. Team owner Michael Andretti does like fielding an extra car just for Indy, but with Gabby Chaves or Townsend Bell rumored for the Herta-Andretti seat this year, the only realistic landing spot would be at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – the team she began her IndyCar career with. RLL is already fielding two cars for the 100th running with Graham Rahal and rookie Spencer Pigot, but if the funding is right anything is possible.
Lastly, this brings us to Kyle Larson.
The 23-year-old is highly coveted by team owner Chip Ganassi and came into NASCAR with immense promise, but in 80 starts at the Sprint Cup level Larson has failed to record a single victory. Many believe that Larson would be a star in IndyCar and just the idea of him racing at Indy has them clamoring for it. The California native has expressed interest in running the Indy 500, but perhaps Ganassi wants to see this NASCAR thing through first. All things considered, maybe running Larson at Indy this season in a Chip Ganassi Racing Indy car is the perfect remedy for a driver trying to break out.
If there is a driver that is going to make the move and attempt the “Memorial Day Double” on May 29, 2016, it in all likelihood will be someone that races under the Chevrolet banner. They are the only manufacturer tied to both IndyCar and NASCAR.
In the modern era of racing politics can take precedence and keep even the most incredible things from happening. In this case, it could be considered travesty to not have someone from NASCAR represented in the field at Indianapolis Motor Speedway come May.
Politics be damned, this is the 100th Indianapolis 500 – the milestone event of a century old American tradition.
Image: Dana Garrett/INDYCAR