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Hmiel Ticket: IndyCar's Next Big Name?

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 16:  Portrait of Shane Hmiel, driver of the NASCAR Busch Series #32 WinFuel/TrimSPA Chevrolet, at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona 500 on February 16, 2005 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Enrique MoralesContributor IApril 10, 2010

Americans love a comeback.

The best-of-the-rest, the beaten, the beleaguered; their successes breed headlines Randy Bernard and his companions could only dream of.

As former NASCAR driver Shane Hmiel returns to racing in the USAC ranks after a tumultuous stint in the popular stock car division, the promising talent has expressed a great interest in moving to the Firestone Indy Lights Series and, eventually, the IZOD IndyCar Series.

If Hmiel does get the opportunity to race, IndyCar might just have another piece of positive news on its hands.

At first glance, Hmiel may not be the best gentleman to represent a racing discipline still struggling to find an identity and a core fan base.  Three failed drug tests and a lifetime ban from an organization as legitimate as NASCAR certainly would not paint a pretty picture for IndyCar.

Beating addiction, returning to racing, and moving on to a new challenge, however, would.

The addition of an American speedway racer raised in the grassroots divisions at the heart of the nation's autosport scene, a driver who has conquered his past and beaten the odds against addiction's many hardships, has too much potential to pass up.

If Shane Hmiel can pass his drug tests now, and if he can prove competence in rear-engined racing, why not allow him to participate?

In his stock car days, he was quite the competitor.  Many felt he could be a key part in the future of the sport.

Now, at age 29, Hmiel is returning to the winner's circle in open-wheel midgets and sprints.  There's no denying that the natural ability still remains present in the North Carolinian.

Of course, Hmiel's not without detractors, many of whom will argue against the potential move.

Perhaps they will say Hmiel "blew the greatest opportunity of his life."

Perhaps he "wasted his potential."

Perhaps he's "had his second chance, maybe even his third."

Perhaps "nothing can be salvaged" from a racer with so many blemishes on his past record.

Perhaps, though, something can be salvaged.

Perhaps people really can admit they were wrong, and really can change for the better.

Shane Hmiel offers something to IndyCar that few can: a back-story that could engross the general public.

Is it easy to sympathize with someone who chose to "self-medicate" when he was in a position of prominence?

No, but it's equally difficult to not admire Shane's determination to overcome his addiction and return to his dreams.

Sure, Hmiel's not the glistening poster boy-type.  No flawless history, no pretty smiles, no perfect wife, no shiny championship trophies.

But when did Americans want to see the glistening poster boy triumph?

Never.

Why?

Because Americans love a comeback.

Over the next few years, Shane Hmiel and IndyCar have a chance to make one together.

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