2023 Writers Roundtable, Vol. 44: 4-Cross Championship?
Question of the day: Which member of last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 4 championship 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, partly because he has the most direct path to the 500 (thanks, Roger Penske). I was a huge 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 Indy Racing. League. This Blaney also seems to have the perfect temperament to succeed in the “500,” and his respect for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is off the charts. Plus, he’s just a good guy, which is something the series — and this run — can never get enough of. Penske even compared him to Rick Mears: “He’s a really soft-spoken guy, but when he gets behind the wheel (and) puts his hat on, it doesn’t get in his way.” The question is, if Team Penske names a NASCAR driver at Indy, wouldn’t the likely choice be Austin Cindric? I think so, although I’m fascinated by all of them (including Joey Logano).
Eric Smith: Christopher Bell. Until he gets a new contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, this is all just a pipe dream. However, with Kyle Larson getting the chance to race in the Indy 500 next May, it would make a lot of sense for Bell to join the other trio. The Oklahoma native and Larson have a similar path through the ranks. Bell was, in fact, the ideal Larson within the Toyota camp. Not only that, Larsson at one point described Bell as a better version of himself as they both came from Keith Coons’ midget team. I would like to see Bale get the same recognition that Larsson did. A three-time Chili Bowl champion, a three-time Turkey Night winner and two straight trips to the Championship 4 have Bell at the top of the list for the Indianapolis 500. And he has that bounce back path from USAC to the ‘500.
Paul Kelly: Since Curt Ryan Blaney took Eric Christopher Bell, I’m going to complete the set and go with William Byron, just because of the mystery surrounding the whole thing. Bell has the same open-wheel roots as Larson, as Eric pointed out, so racing in the Indy 500 would be a natural progression. Blaney doesn’t have an open-wheel driving background like his father, “The Buckeye Bullet,” but he drives for Team Penske. So, there’s always that connection waiting in the wings, and Blaney would be in elite gear with Penske if he tried out the ‘500’ with the captain’s team. But Byron? He started out as an elite racer before moving up to Legends cars, Late Models, and then NASCAR cars. I am aware there is no open backend. But the man can drive a race car, as demonstrated during this career year and when he won the Pennzoil 150 in the Brickyard NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2017 at IMS as a 19-year-old. I’m intrigued by the prospect of Byron because I simply have no idea if he’s interested or how he’ll do it. But a drive in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t hurt, as team owner Rick Hendrick is involved in Larson’s bid for the Hendrick 1100 Indy-Charlotte double next May 26. Let’s hope this leads to Hendrick entering more cars into “The Greatest Scene in Racing” more regularly, with Byron in one of them.