It's good having Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya back at Indy.
A couple of other names from the past popped up in the March-April rumor mill, Paul Tracy and Robby Gordon, and they would have been nice additions as well.
They're talented racers, two winners, a still-thinks-he's-a-winner and an almost-winner of the Indianapolis 500. They're characters, too. Love 'em or loathe 'em, they're the sorts of drivers who stir passion in fans.
Plus they're familiar to the casual 30-, 40- and 50-something fans the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can't afford to lose. That's no knock on kids such as Josef Newgarden or Sage Karam, but there's still something to be said for tradition, right?
But here's the thing. When talking about Villeneuve's return, it's impossible to ignore what has transpired in the 19 years since he last raced in the 500.
You know. The Indy Racing League. The split. The uneasy evolution and a patchwork merger. The hatred that lingers over the decline of one of the world's greatest sporting events. The fingers that remain pointed in anger.
The circumstances of Villeneuve and Montoya do differ.
In Villeneuve's case, some refer to him as the winner of the lastrealIndy 500, the pre-split race of 1995.
When Montoya arrived two series existed. He brought with him a Champ Car title and in his first start with the other guys dominated the 500. A-ha, one side rejoiced, superiority is proved. But ultimately that side lost.
In all likelihood, the 500 will never again ascend to the peak it once reached -- whether you believe that came in the 1970s, when a quarter-million people showed up for qualifying, in the 1990s, when Foyt and Mears and Unser and Andretti were household names, or some other time altogether. Some of the decline you can blame on the split. But not all.
Competitors retire. People's interests change. The economy rides waves. Time moves forward, and so must those grounded in resentment.
Yes, it would be nice if 50 cars had been on the track getting ready to fight for 33 spots on Saturday and Sunday and for the race a week later. Sure, it would be nice if financial and safety realities permitted huge leaps in speed and technology, which would surely be popular.
But this isn't 1965 with Jim Clark leading the rear-engine revolution, it's not 1977 with Tom Sneva breaking a speed barrier, it's not 1991 with Rick Mears winning his fourth 500 and, irrespective of Villeneuve and Montoya, it also is not 1995 or 2000 either.
This year is this year.
Villeneuve, 43, has been doing a bit of whatever he wants. Montoya, 38, is an IndyCar driver full time for the first time after racing in Formula One and NASCAR since 2001.
The qualifying has a new format, the field will have a typical assortment of familiar and unfamiliar names, the racing should be fairly entertaining and the winner could be a first-timer or the fourth four-time winner.
Enjoy it for what it is. Reminisce, if you'd like, but don't hold too tightly to the past. Griping hasn't changed history yet.
Milwaukee for Marlin
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin has committed to racing in the Howie Lettow 150 June 7-8 at the Milwaukee Mile, ARCA Midwest Tour vice president Steve Einhaus said.
Marlin, 56, won 10 times in 748 starts in NASCAR's top division, including Daytona in 1994 and '95.
The colorful Tennessean's best season was 2002, when he won twice for Chip Ganssi and Felix Sabates and led the standings for 25 straight weeks before suffering a neck injury that caused him to miss the final seven races.
Although Marlin retired from NASCAR in 2009, he has run some on the local short tracks.
Fame on the horizon
Electors will meet Wednesday in Charlotte to select the five-member class for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. Nominees were announced in February.
If the process follows recent history, it's more likely that someone like the recently retired Bill Elliott would be chosen over, say, Red Byron, NASCAR's first champion, or still-active owner Rick Hendrick over Raymond Parks, who owned Byron's car and helped to found NASCAR.
"We know more about what has happened in the most recent past," conceded 2014 inductee Dale Jarrett. "That weighs a lot on it, even though I know a lot of cases are made for some of the others from the early days.
"And I think that eventually will happen. But I think it's only natural that it's happening this way, just because of the way we think."
Jarrett, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and the 1999 series champion, is the youngest of the 20 Hall of Fame members at 57.
Million dollar test session
Saturday night and the Sprint All-Star Race aren't just about the paycheck.
"Charlotte is always big for experimenting, largely because when you come back for the 600, the clock ticks so fast in practice you can't get to your list of things to try," said Jimmie Johnson, two-time and defending winner of the non-points, $1 million-to-win race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Coca-Cola 600 follows eight days later at the same track.
"We practice during the day and race at night," Johnson said. "So things that show some promise, you're always concerned to run them in the 600 because the bulk of the race is at night, and you just tried all these new experimental items in the sun. Is it going to work? Is handling going to change?
"I would say it's safe to say that the majority of the field will be experimenting with something on their cars."
Lend a hand
Stewart-Haas Racing says Parker Kligerman will stand by for the All-Star Race should Kurt Busch be late in arriving from Indianapolis qualifying.
Back in business
James Hinchcliffe, who suffered a concussion Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, was given medical clearance Thursday to resume driving.
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