- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Nine American drivers were on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway practicing on Tuesday, with several posting top times in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson, rookie drivers for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, have been fast through the first four days of practice.

Veterans Townsend Bell, Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay know the track well.

J.R. Hildebrand nearly put the questions about American drivers to rest last year before crashing on the final lap and allowing Dan Wheldon to cruise to victory.

Then, there is the Marco Andretti-Graham Rahal rivalry.

Clauson, who was the pole sitter for the Indy Lights race last year, could barely picture what a win would mean for him or another American driver. The last U.S. driver to win was Sam Hornish, Jr., in 2006.

“It’s one of the biggest races in the world, definitely the biggest race in America,” Clauson said. “We want the Americans to shine on this stage. We all want to be the American hero who wins the 500.”

The Andretti-Rahal rivalry has escalated this season. A mutual dislike grew when Rahal caused an accident with Andretti at Long Beach last month.

Reviews showed Rahal was guilty of blocking and initiating avoidable contact, IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield said. Andretti’s car hit the back of Rahal‘s, launched briefly into the air and spun into a tire barrier. IndyCar placed Rahal on probation for six races for his role in the accident.

Rahal said the rivalry is good for the sport. The two sat next to each other at a podium after Tuesday’s practice and co-existed, but did not greet each other.

“I don’t know that there’s any love lost between the two of us,” Rahal said. “It’s the way it goes. It’s the way it’s always been between our two families, and I’m sure it will continue that way.”

Rahal added fuel to the rivalry on Tuesday.

“I think a month after the incident, he’s still bringing it up in his blog,” Rahal said. “That’s a maturity issue.”

Andretti had the fastest lap, Rahal was fourth, Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth and Charlie Kimball sixth as Americans took four of the top six spots in Tuesday’s practice.

Rahal believes it is important that the American who wins has a recognizable name, such as Rahal or Andretti, to give the sport the brand name he believes it needs. He believes several have a chance.

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