Indy 500 worth watching again

You can watch America's best open-wheel drivers on Sunday, but it will take nearly seven hours, 1,100 miles and two races.

Have plenty of wine -- bottled with corks, of course -- ready for the 10 a.m. start of the Indianapolis 500. You can roll out the beer kegs four hours later for the Coca-Cola 600 from Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C.

Open-wheel fans finally can put a cork in their "whine" about racing politics now that the Indy Racing League cast a final shovel of dirt on the defunct Champ Car World Series at the start of the season.

The country has one unified series after a 12-year division between the IRL and Champ Car.

All of the best IndyCar drivers will be in Indianapolis except for the last two winners of the 500 and the series' last two champions, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti. Hornish will compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, but fellow stock-car rookie Franchitti will miss it with a foot injury. Juan Pablo Montoya -- the 2000 Indy winner -- also will be with the stockers.

If the Cup race follows the lead of Saturday's All-Star race, then it won't be too exciting.

The only drama will be if Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally wins a race.

(I've promised a member of Junior Nation not to jinx him by predicting this will be the one that ends his two-year drought.)

Give the IndyCar race a chance, if for no other reason, because the 500 will be close to two hours shorter than the Cup marathon.

The great race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be worth watching for the first time since the open-wheel world was split more widely than the Democrats.

The influx of several former Champ Car teams created enough entries that three drivers actually missed making the starting field of 33.

But, sadly, it will be the first time in eight years that Henderson's Sam Schmidt will not have a car running at Indy on Sunday. He teamed with Rubicon Racing to field a car for Max Pappis, but Pappis crashed in Saturday's practice and was unable to get on the track Sunday.

Richie Hearn, also of Henderson, was unable to land a ride to compete in his 10th consecutive 500.

That leaves Las Vegas with two connections to Sunday's race. Former resident Davey Hamilton will start 18th, and longtime resident Jimmy Vasser is part-owner of KV Racing Technology, which qualified drivers Will Power and Oriol Servia.

If not eager to root for those with local ties, you can support drivers with deep ties to the fabled 2.5-mile oval. Third-generation racer Marco Andretti is a good pick, and Graham Rahal and A.J. Foyt IV are the sons of former winners.

If you know "paso doble" is a dance and not a passing move in Spain, cheer for 2007 "Dancing With the Stars" champion Helio Castroneves, a two-time Indy winner. It might be your last chance; he's considering a move to stock cars.

NASCAR fans -- and a few top drivers -- are known to appreciate dancing, but it involves brass poles and dollar bills instead of dips and quick steps. But real male racing fans care about poles and women only when it comes to qualifying No. 1 for a race.

The IndyCar series, however, does not expect its women to cater to men's fantasies except for a few Danica Patrick pictorials and her bikini pose in its media guide.

Three women -- Patrick, Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno -- will start the 500. And Fisher, who will race in her seventh Indy, will compete for the first time as an owner/driver.

The Cup series might lead IndyCar and NHRA in attendance, TV ratings and sponsorship income, but it's chugging behind them in opportunities for women drivers.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or