Weintraub is right that a lot of the best young American open-wheel racecar drivers have gotten jobs driving stock cars in NASCAR instead of competing in the Indy Racing League. Now, if the IRL was filling its cars solely with second-tier young American open-wheel racecar drivers, Weintraub would have a slam-dunk case. But, in fact, over half of the drivers in the Indy 500 field were foreigners. And I'm not sure that there's any evidence that a 2 time Indy 500 winner like Helio Castroneves isn't as skilled and talented a racecar driver as NASCAR star Tony Stewart. After all, Helio did beat Tony when they raced against each other in the 2001 Indy 500, and Helio has won two-out-of-five of the Indy 500s he's started and Tony is, alas, zero-for-five.
The circuit used to be dominated by boldface names like Mears, Rahal, Fittipaldi, and Unser. I'll forgive you for not remembering that some guy named Buddy Rice won Indy last year. And by this time next week, you'll have forgotten all about Dan Wheldon.
He's suggesting that the reason we haven't heard about the current top IRL drivers, like Wheldon and Helio, as well as Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti is that they're not as talented as Mears, Rahal, and Unser. But the real reason American audiences aren't interested in these drivers is that these drivers are not American: 8 of the last 10 Indy 500 winners have been foreigners, and their dominance of the event has driven away TV viewers.
And that's too bad, because these guys are good drivers and they do put on good races. The IRL race at the Texas Speedway is almost always more exciting than any of the NASCAR races on similar 1.5-mile ovals. However, I can understand why American audiences prefer to follow the careers of talented young American drivers like NASCAR's Kasey Kahne instead of talented young British drivers like Dan Wheldon.