“As great as it is that Rossi or somebody else may win again, it will never be as impactful as an Andretti or Rahal winning this race” Says Rahal of the Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS — In IndyCar’s hey day, you had tons of talented drivers. From the Unser’s to the Andretti’s to Foyt to Rahal to Mears to Rutherford, the 70, 80s and early 90s were no doubt the glory years for open wheel racing. While a number of factors can be attributed to the decline in attention that the NTT IndyCar Series has gotten over the years, there’s no doubt that it’s continuing on its upswing.

Unfortunately, no fans will be in attendance to watch their Super Bowl this year as Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) will take place behind closed doors. But, this is also a great opportunity for the series to showcase what they’ve got.

It’s a pandemic. There’s likely going to be more eyeballs on this race than in years past since no one else really has anything better to do on Sunday. I mean, the name “Indy 500” is iconic. But, to hear the Indy 500 will run without fans in the stands is a big story too.

“I almost think this is one you want to win because this is the one that’s going to be talked about and the winner of this one will always get brought up that this was the Indy 500 run without fans,” said Sage Karam. “This one is going to be pretty special.”

Graham Rahal agrees.

“It’s different because I bet you that they’ll become one of the best known names because of it,” said the second generation driver. “This is going to be an iconic year. It is. It is an iconic year. The year Rossi won, it’s an iconic year. Are you going to forget the year 2020 until the year you die? No. I’m not. I don’t think anybody’s going to.”

But, another big thing to draw people in is the fact that for the first time in 33 years, we have an Andretti on the pole. That’s a big deal for this series. That’s why so many drivers were celebrating when Marco Andretti put his No. 98 Honda P1 in the Fast Nine Shootout on Sunday.

When an Andretti does well in this sport, it moves the needle just as when Dale Earnhardt Jr. did so in NASCAR.

“I think it’s a great thing an Andretti’s on pole because it’s a great year to have the spotlight on us like this when we need it,” Rahal continued. “I think it was a great thing for Marco, it was a great thing for this sport and it’s a great thing for this race.”

But, wouldn’t it be great if Rahal can join Andretti up front on Sunday to battle for the win? I mean, he most certainly could. Rahal, rolls off eighth this weekend and has actually been better over this career than Andretti has. Would a rivalry of two familiar names help the series’ growth? He thinks it wouldn’t hurt.

“It would certainly be a great thing,” Rahal said if an Andretti-Rahal rivalry could form. “It’s a different day and time. I’m not sure I see it happening in a way that it did in those days. Maybe it would be a good thing for the sport if we don’t like each other. If I bashed him all the time. But, it’s not really the personality that I am.

“Do I want to go beat him? There’s no doubt. Do I want to see him win this weekend? Absolutely not. That’s not be distasteful or mean or anything else. That’s the way we were raised. I want to win. I don’t want to go see an Andretti win it. But, at the same time, on the other side of my brain works, I grew up an IndyCar fan. I want to see this sport grow.

“Would an Andretti winning the Indy 500 be great for the sport? Absolutely, it would be great for this sport. There’s two sides to me. When I leave this sport hopefully many years down the road, I want to see it in a better spot than it was when I got here in 2008.

“I think it’s getting there and a good story like that would certainly be a great thing. As great as it is that Rossi or somebody else may win again, it will never be as impactful as an Andretti or Rahal winning this race. We know that. That’s factual. Because people grew up watching our dads. People idolized our dads. Andretti in particular. Rahal less so than Andretti. But, it would be a huge bump in this sport to have one of those two names win. I have to have two sides of my brain here, the racer in me and the fan in me.”

He’s not wrong. I mean just look at the qualifying numbers from last week. It was up over 20-percent from last year.

Andretti and Rahal sells IndyCar. They just do. In this day and age, if one of them wins on Sunday, it could be just what IndyCar needed during this pandemic.

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