The longest day of the auto racing year is here.
The action starts in Indianapolis, Ind., for the Indy 500. Then it shifts to Concord, N.C., for the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of NASCAR's year.
At Indianapolis, Marco Andretti knows how much heartache his family has suffered at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He needs no reminders that IndyCar could use an American superstar, and with his famous last name, he is quite aware of the hope that maybe he can be the one to elevate this attention-starved series.
None of that matters to Andretti as he heads into the Indianapolis 500.
He believes he can win today's race -- "it's going to be our race to lose," he said -- and he wants it, badly. But Andretti wants it for himself, for his own career, and not because of what it would mean to his family or for IndyCar. Mario Andretti won in 1969, and no Andretti has done it again in 65 starts and many of those races were devastating near-misses.
"That's not my approach to the event. My approach is I want to win our Super Bowl," Andretti said. "I put that pressure on myself. I don't want to do it because he did it and my dad didn't, that's all bonus. Do I think we can? You're darn right."
The 96th running of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is the most wide-open race in a very long time. Engine competition for the first time in six years and the introduction of a new car has widened the pool of potential winners, and there's no clear favorite.
"I think we're going to see the best race we've had in at least a decade," said Roger Penske, winner of 15 Indy 500s and the team owner of pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe.
Meanwhile, the focus at Charlotte Motor Speedway today is on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hasn't won in 140 races. He came close in this race a year ago.
It looked like Earnhardt was the best a year ago when he broke free on a late restart to take the lead. He got the white flag just fine, then ran out of gas on the front straightaway and coasted through the final turn before Kevin Harvick passed him for the win.
"After a while, you start thinking about, 'Oh, yeah, we really came close to winning a race,' " Earnhardt said this week. "It was really unfortunate there wasn't just a little bit more gas in the car."
Harvick said afterward he "felt so stinking bad" for Earnhardt because he knew how much the Hendrick Motorsports driver wanted to win. The fans roared when Earnhardt, voted the sport's most popular driver the past nine years, moved in front and were equally stunned when his tank ran dry.
Earnhardt, who'll start 12th on tonight, feels he's in a strong position to contend again.
On Saturday, Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Nationwide Series event, leading the final 67 laps to give Penske Racing a winning start on auto racing's biggest weekend.
Keselowski raced to his first Nationwide victory of the year. He led the way as Sprint Cup drivers took the top four spots. Denny Hamlin was second, followed by Kyle Busch and Harvick, last year's Coca-Cola 600 champion. Points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had driveshaft problems and finished 26th.
Don't bet against more Penske wins this weekend. The team's other drivers in Indianapolis, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, start fifth and sixth.