Today’s question: Which member of the NASCAR Cup Series’ Championship 4 drivers last Sunday at Phoenix besides Kyle Larson would you like to see race in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge?
Curt Cavin: I think it has to be Ryan Blaney, in part because he has the most direct path to the 500 (thanks, Roger Penske). I was a big fan of his father’s career, and I thought after seeing Dave Blaney win the Chili Bowl in 1993 and the World of Outlaws title two years later that he would have made a good INDYCAR SERIES driver in the early years of the Indy Racing League. This Blaney also seems to have the perfect temperament for success in the “500,” and his respect for Indianapolis Motor Speedway is off the charts. Plus, he just a good dude, which a series – and this race – can never get enough of. Penske even compared him to Rick Mears: “He’s a soft-spoken guy, really, but when he gets behind the wheel (and) puts his hat on, don’t get in his way.” The question is, if Team Penske fields a NASCAR driver at Indy, wouldn’t the likely selection be Austin Cindric? Methinks so, although I’m intrigued by all of them (Joey Logano included).
Eric Smith: Christopher Bell. Until he gets a new contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, this is all merely a pipe dream. However, with Kyle Larson getting a shot at the Indy 500 next May, Bell would make the most sense out of the other trio to join. The Oklahoma native and Larson have the same path through the ranks. Bell was, in fact, the quintessential Larson within the Toyota camp. Not only that, Larson at one time called Bell a better version of himself as each came from Keith Kunz’s midget team. I would love to see Bell get the same recognition as Larson. A three-time Chili Bowl champion, a three-time Turkey Night winner and two straight trips to the Championship 4 has Bell high on my list of hopefuls to run the Indianapolis 500. He has that throwback path from USAC to the “500.”
Paul Kelly: Since Curt took Ryan Blaney and Eric picked Christopher Bell, I’ll complete the set and pick William Byron, mainly for the mystery of it all. Bell has the same open-wheel roots as Larson, as Eric noted, so racing in the Indy 500 would be a natural progression. Blaney has no open-wheel background like his dad, “The Buckeye Bullet,” but he does drive for Team Penske. So, there’s always that connection waiting in the wings, and Blaney would be in elite equipment with Penske if he ever tried the “500” with The Captain’s team. But Byron? He started as an elite sim racer before moving into Legends cars, late models and then NASCAR stock cars. I’m aware of no open-wheel background. But the dude can flat out wheel a race car, as shown during this career year and when he won the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2017 at IMS as a 19-year-old. I’m intrigued by the prospect of Byron simply because I have no clue if he’s interested or how he would do. But driving in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t hurt, as team owner Rick Hendrick is all in on Larson’s attempt of the Hendrick 1100 Indy-Charlotte double next May 26. Let’s hope that results in Hendrick entering more cars in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on a more regular basis, with Byron in one of them.