Rahal vs. Andretti would be epic

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INDIANAPOLIS -- No duel at the finish of Sunday's 98th Indianapolis 500 would resonate through the past, present and future of this storied event more than this:

An Andretti and a Rahal, wheel to wheel, from the white flag to the checkered.

Unlikely? Yes.

Possible? Oh, yes.

Delightful to envision? Wow.

And the nature of IndyCar racing, here and elsewhere in recent years, hints that, whatever the names involved, there'll be a duel or a multicar scramble at the end.

A shootout between Marco Andretti, 27, and Graham Rahal, 25, "would do more for this race than anybody else who's in this race," said Rahal, son of Bobby Rahal, who won this race as a driver in 1986 and as an owner in 2004 with Buddy Rice.

 

"I mean, Tony Kanaan is a very popular guy," young Rahal continued. "[Juan Pablo] Montoya, [Scott] Dixon, Helio [Castroneves] -- those guys are obviously very well known."

And Indy winners all:

Kanaan last year, in perhaps the most popular win here in this millennium, after 11 spirited tries and heartbreaking losses.

Montoya in 2000, in his only other appearance in the 500, although he's been back to Indy several times since then, driving in Formula One and NASCAR...

Dixon in 2008, and a force to be reckoned with in other years...

Castroneves, the only driver in this year's field who'll be going for a fourth win, now that Dario Franchitti will be an observer this time after recovering from career-ending injuries suffered this past fall.

"But," young Rahal said, "those two names ..."

Andretti and Rahal. Now that Foyt, Unser, Mears, Fittipaldi, Vukovich and Bettenhausen are names relegated to history, this year's field of 33 drivers just doesn't offer a more resounding pair than Andretti and Rahal.

To the mainstream public, that is.

Inside IndyCar, and inside the two families, it gets even better. Call them motor racing's Hatfields and McCoys.

Graham Rahal grew up watching his father make extra effort, and then some -- and then some more -- in his workout room, motivated by a picture on the wall, of Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti, Marco's father, wheel to wheel in a race.

"The Rahals and Andrettis will always be like oil and water," Graham said. "That's just the way it's gonna be."

Even in talking about it -- or refusal to -- there's a stark contrast.

Are they rivals by heritage?

"I don't know," said Marco Andretti, his body language implying he didn't even want to dignify the question with an answer. "I don't approach a given race thinking about Graham Rahal. I just don't."

"When it comes down to a wheel-to-wheel battle, there's nobody I like to beat more than Marco," Rahal said.

Put another question, another way, about the Rahals to Marco Andretti -- that even considering the storied "Andretti Curse" here, the Rahals have suffered their share of heartbreaks, too.

And you get the same body language of annoyance, the same dismissive answer.

"I don't think about that at all," Marco said.

But that's the nature of the two families for decades here. The Andrettis are the oil, the Rahals the water.

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