American drivers post top times
INDIANAPOLIS -- Nine American drivers were on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway practicing on Tuesday, with several posting top times in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.
It's one of the biggest races in the world, definitely the biggest race in America. We want the Americans to shine on this stage. We all want to be the American hero who wins the 500.” -- Bryan Clauson
J.R. Hildebrand nearly put the questions about American drivers to rest last year before crashing on the final lap and allowing Dan Wheldon to cruise to victory.
Clauson, who was the pole sitter for the Indy Lights race last year, could barely picture what a win would mean for him or another American driver. The last U.S. driver to win was Sam Hornish Jr., in 2006.
"It's one of the biggest races in the world, definitely the biggest race in America," Clauson said. "We want the Americans to shine on this stage. We all want to be the American hero who wins the 500."
The Andretti-Rahal rivalry has escalated this season. A mutual dislike grew when Rahal caused an accident with Andretti at Long Beach last month.
Reviews showed Rahal was guilty of blocking and initiating avoidable contact, IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield said. Andretti's car hit the back of Rahal's, launched briefly into the air and spun into a tire barrier. IndyCar placed Rahal on probation for six races for his role in the accident.
Rahal said the rivalry is good for the sport. The two sat next to each other at a podium after Tuesday's practice and co-existed, but did not greet each other.
"I don't know that there's any love lost between the two of us," Rahal said. "It's the way it goes. It's the way it's always been between our two families, and I'm sure it will continue that way."
Rahal added fuel to the rivalry on Tuesday.
"I think a month after the incident, he's still bringing it up in his blog," Rahal said. "That's a maturity issue."
Andretti had the fastest lap, Rahal was fourth, Hunter-Reay was fifth and Charlie Kimball sixth as Americans took four of the top six spots in Tuesday's practice.
Rahal believes it is important that the American who wins has a recognizable name, such as Rahal or Andretti, to give the sport the brand name he believes it needs. He believes several have a chance.
"I think it's definitely important," he said. "This is, I think, the greatest American race there is. I think it's important that one of us do well, but to be honest, I think there's a lot of us that could do well. There's a lot of guys running up front, and a lot of them are Americans."
Clauson had the 10th-fastest lap on Tuesday.
"I think it's shown in our performance that to this point this month, these guys have worked hard, maybe harder than anybody," he said. "Our cars seem to be pretty quick. We'll see if we can keep it up throughout the month. We feel like we've got some more to trim out of them to make them even faster."
Clauson isn't so sure a big name is needed.
"Being the grass roots guy, the guy that came from the local dirt tracks around Indiana -- to be that guy in this situation, it's the underdog role."
Newgarden has been fast all season, but hasn't placed better than 11th in a race.
"The shame of it has been we've had speed everywhere. We've been quick with the car, but haven't been able to translate that into good finishes. I think we've just had some bad luck and learned a lot of things, all of us as a team."
Newgarden respects the other drivers and believes the diversity is good for the sport, but he understands why Americans want one of their own to step up.
"It is important," he said. "Some fans have been discouraged that we haven't had successful Americans in a little while in IndyCar. That's what they want to see. I think having Americans that are strong -- this is America's racetrack here."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
96TH INDIANAPOLIS 500-MILE RACE
The 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the books. New stars, new cars and the venerable Indianapolis Motor Speedway came together for a thriller as a great tradition ended its 101st year.
Monday, May 28• Hinton: The best of his generation
• Video: Franchitti sits down with Musburger
Race day, May 27• Hinton: Franchitti simply flawless • Blount: Wheldon friends finish 1-2-3
• Oreovicz: Honda answers the bell
• Recap: Franchitti wins his third | Results
• Video: Indianapolis 500 highlights
• Video: Franchitti emotional after third win
• Video: Sato disappointed with crash
• Video: Kanaan falls short again
• Racing Live! Indy 500 rewind
Saturday, May 26• Blount: Two stars gone, many new ones ready
• Hinton: Magic remains in Indy
• ESPN.com staff's podium picks
• Newton: Dream weekend for Penske?
Carb Day, May 25• Oreovicz: Franchitti, Dixon make a charge
• Blount: Five feel-good stories for the 500
• Blount blog: How about Andretti-Rahal rivalry?
• Oreovicz chat wrap
• Andrews: Legge racing from behind
• Wilson blog: Martina McBride gets the call
• Guerrieri wins Freedom 100
• Racing Live! Indy 500 on ESPN.com, Sunday, noon ET
Features• Hinton: One-on-one with Mario Andretti
• Oreovicz: Handicapping the 500 field
• Blount: The heartache lingers
• Oreovicz: Briscoe puts Penske on pole
• James: Indy 500 on Danica's mind
• Oreovicz: Pole Day surprise?
• Oreovicz: Young guns taking charge
• Oreovicz: Storylines to watch at Indy
News & Notes• Briscoe wins Indy 500 pole | Starting grid
• Food Network's Fieri to drive pace car
• American drivers impress in practice
• Andrettis split up for Indy race-day radio calls
• Jay Penske needs engines for two cars at Indy
• Dario Franchitti to run No. 50 at Indy
• Herta Autosport chooses Honda
• Pagenaud hits bird during practice
• Jim Nabors to miss Indy 500
Video• Indy 500 memories: Wheldon thrills in 2011
• Indy 500 preview
• Helio says he's ready
• The Andretti-Foyt rivalry
• Franchitti's take on Dan Wheldon, Indy
• Indy 500 memories: Hornish thrills in 2006
• A.J. Foyt a NASCAR legend, too
• Indy 500 memories: Wheldon's 2005 victory
• Indy 500 memories: Danica leads a lap
• Indy 500 memories: Helio goes back-to-back
• Analysis: Indy 500 qualifying
• Pole Day: Briscoe stars for Penske
• Indy 500 memories: Little Al holds on
• Indy 500 memories: Mears wins his fourth
• Indy 500 memories: Unser vs. Goodyear
• Indy 500 memories: Mears joins elite club
• Indy 500 memories: Foyt wins fourth
• Indy 500 memories: Sullivan spins and wins
Indy 500 Rewind• 2011 Flashback: Wheldon's Cinderella story
• 2010 Flashback: Dario's all the way back
• 2009 Flashback: Castroneves wins again
• 2008 Flashback: Quiet Dixon makes noise • 2007 Flashback: Franchitti comes up big
• 2006 Flashback: Hornish gets his "Holy Grail"