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All geared up over nothing

Today's philosophical question: If there are only six drivers in a race, what are the chances that Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart could still offer to drive each other off the road?

In this case, zero, because what happened at the United States Grand Prix on Sunday couldn't (well, wouldn't) happen in NASCAR.

If you missed it, and frankly, why wouldn't you miss it, the USGP featured only six drivers because 14 other teams, all armed with Michelin tires, would not run on what they considered unsafe conditions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That's right. Six. And because someone should list their names, here they are, in order of finish, if that's what you want to call it:

Michael Schumacher.

Rubens Barrichello.

Tiago Monteiro.

Narain Karthikeyan.

Christijan Albers.

Patrick Friesacher.

Schumacher, you know. Barrichello, you might. The rest are strictly gearhead names, and really arcane ones, as Formula 1 has been trying with remarkably little success to resonate with NASCAR Planet.

So what better way to blow the works in the only F1 race of the year in the U.S. than to have what amounts to a tire strike?

Of course, when we say "the works," we exaggerate. On the same day Greg Biffle won the hideously named Batman Begins 400 before the usual-sized NASCAR crowd in Michigan, the few fans who went to Indy for the USGP were so unfulfilled by the spectacle they had been treated to that they hurled water bottles and other miscellaneous garbage on the track, booed Schumacher on the victory stand, and all in all probably made a mental note to get on the NASCAR bandwagon.

I mean, the NASCAR drivers crash sometimes, and even get in fights, and they never turn right unless something goes horribly wrong, but they do drive.

Imagine, if you can stand it, such a drivers' boycott in NASCAR.

Imagine, for example, a track being burned to the ground.

You see, fans will put up with a lot, and hockey fans will actually put up with so much that they'll settle for nothing at all.

But they're the only ones. Everywhere else in the world, people expect a certain level of service for their hard-earned jack, and Sunday's race wasn't it on any level.

I mean, were you ready for Game 5 of the NBA Finals with only four Pistons and three Spurs? Or Yankees-Red Sox with only bullpens? The NFC championship for punters and long snappers. Or the Kentucky Derby with only two gates. Or the Olympic 100-meter hop. Bowling with three pins.

Or the U.S. Open with only golfers whose surnames begin with the letters A through G. I mean, that's a good deal for Michael Campbell, but you don't get Woods, Singh or Mickelson, and you get Goosen and Gore shooting 81 and 84.

Now that's a deal, ain't it?

When you think about it, Schumacher was lucky the water bottles weren't Molotov cocktails – and he's one of the guys who drove.

In fairness, we've been bombarded over the past year or so with exciting tales of work stoppages, lockouts, salary caps, age limits, stalled negotiations, posturing and other forms of noncompetitive tedium, so we're not really in the mood to head out to the track for a day of watching six cars drive around for hours! That's not auto racing; that's circling the Trader Joe's looking for a parking place near the entrance.

So yes, NASCAR fans would have burned down the track, and depending on the trial venue, might have gotten away with only a $100 fine and time served.

Of course, there is opportunism even in situations like this. The rival Champ Car series said tickets to Sunday's fiasco-rama will be honored at Sunday's Grand Prix of Cleveland, which would be a wonderful gesture if it didn't mean that most of the people who went to Sunday's race would have to drive to the far side of another state to take advantage of the offer.

Now that's a deal, ain't it?

The upside here is that all six guys finished the race, the first time that has happened since cars first installed floorboards to eliminate the infamous "Flintstone start."

But that's not much consolation for a sport that has a hard enough time getting its results in the morning paper. And this is one of those innovations that won't catch on, trust us.

Unless you are looking forward to the main event of the World Series of Poker, without the flop, turn or river.

Now that's a deal, ain't it? In fact, now that we think of it, that's all it is.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com