IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-06-28

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- June 28, 2006 Today's IRL headlines 1. Castroneves' slim points lead could disappear to a number of contenders 2. Dodge returns to his roots 3. Of note 1. Castroneves' slim points lead could disappear to a...

INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- June 28, 2006

Today's IRL headlines
1. Castroneves' slim points lead could disappear to a number of contenders
2. Dodge returns to his roots
3. Of note

1. Castroneves' slim points lead could disappear to a number of contenders: Sam Hornish Jr. sees opportunities on the asphalt and concrete.

Hornish, the most recent race winner at Richmond International Raceway, is five points behind Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in the standings at the halfway point of the season. Seven races remain for Hornish to secure his third series title. Of course, the competition -- including Castroneves, a three-time winner already this season -- will not oblige.

"I'm sure it is going to get interesting," said Hornish, who won the final two races of the 2002 season to edge Castroneves and Gil de Ferran for the championship. "I look forward to the schedule that we've got coming up. I think that there are a lot of opportunities for me to go out there and to win races."

On the calendar are three races on 1.5-mile ovals (Kansas Speedway on July 2; Kentucky Speedway on Aug. 13; Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 10), and one race each on a 1-mile oval (The Milwaukee Mile on July 23), a 2-mile oval (Michigan International Speedway on July 31), a 1.33-mile oval (Nashville Superspeedway on July 15), and a road course (Infineon Raceway on Aug. 27).

After a 10th-place finish at Richmond, Castroneves has 252 points. Hornish, a two-time winner this season, has 247.

"Helio had a good jump on us for the points, had some good races early on, but we needed to make sure we stayed with him and at least make sure one of the Marlboro Team Penske cars finishes first in the championship," Hornish said. "We'd really love to have a 1, 2."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon (229) and Dan Wheldon (217) -- both race winners this season -- will likely continue to be in the championship mix. Wheldon is the reigning IndyCar Series champion. Fifty points are awarded to the race winner (with three bonus points added to the lap leader's total) -- a 10-point margin over second. Third is worth 35 points. So anything can transpire the final 11 weeks of the season to shake up the top five.

"We have been a little disappointed to see where we're at, at the moment," said Dixon, the 2003 series champion. "I think we let slip quite a few races already with silly mistakes. I think this next stretch of races we definitely need to step it up and make sure that we don't let these little things take us out of these races.

"It's a bit of a tough point in the year. I know we've got five or six weeks coming up, it's time to get on it and make a break and start dominating."

Only 43 points separate positions five (Panther Racing's Vitor Meira) through 11 (Super Aguri Fernandez Racing's Kosuke Matsuura). And only 29 points separate the next tier of Rahal Letterman Racing's Danica Patrick (140) to Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter (16th with 111 points).

"The road courses (St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen) have hurt me a little bit, but I don't think it's been from a lack of being fast," said Hornish, whose only non-top-five finishes have come at those venues. "Being that we've got two-thirds of the road courses out of the way and the experience that I've got off of those two as well, I think we're looking at a lot of tracks that I really like going to.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what new things we can accomplish, and obviously Helio and I will both be battling to get Roger's (Penske) 130th win next week at Kansas."

2. Dodge returns to his roots: Geoff Dodge has raced at the most famous track in sprint car racing, as well as the most storied track in the entire world, all in less than a year. He won the Knoxville Nationals Fast Track to Indy program at Knoxville Raceway last August, and he wheeled an IRL Indy Pro Series^Ù car at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.

Dodge finished eighth in the Freedom 100, after starting at the back of the 19-car field. He was the story of the day, as he brushed the wall on the opening lap of the event and drove the entire 40-lap distance with a bent front suspension to finish on the lead lap. He thrilled the crowd as he passed cars seemingly at will both on the high side of the track and the bottom.

Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colo., watching his dad Dick wheel sprint cars, Dodge now calls Speedway, Ind. home. He drives for Brian Stewart Racing in the Indy Pro Series, the top development series for the Indy Racing League. In only four races this season, he has two top-10 finishes.

On June 23, Dodge returned to the track that vaulted him into the spotlight, to watch the World of Outlaws Shoot-Out. After shaking many hands in the pits and receiving well wishes from the fans, he helped out Justin Henderson and the crew of the Jolt Energy Gum Schnee prepare for the night of racing.

"It's great to come back to Knoxville," Dodge said. "This is the place where my biggest career break to date took place. It's kind of like coming home to an old friend. It's good to back around the World of Outlaws and sprint car racing."

In between turning wrenches in the pits, Dodge had a chance to chat with World of Outlaws officials that were present. He thanked them for all that they have done to help him make a name for himself in the Indy Pro Series.

"The World of Outlaws stepped up and got on board as a financial supporter of our effort," Dodge said. "We also have Knoxville Raceway, as well as Ticket Director, so we have the short-track connection and have gotten a lot of help from those people. It's nice to have the short-track community behind us doing the Indy Pro Series deal."

Dodge who grew up racing on dirt, knew he was in for a big change, as he strapped into a rear-engine Indy-style car. His team has provided him with all the resources needed for him to be successful on and off the track. He is making the most of this golden opportunity.

He even had the chance to drive his first non-oval race, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. He finished a very respectable 11th in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the tight street course, racing against drivers who had grown up racing road and street courses.

"We're getting better and better," Dodge said. "We go to so many different tracks, and you basically start over at each one, kind of like you do in a sprint car. It's kind of like you have run your entire life on a quarter-mile and come to the half-mile at Knoxville, and you have a lot to learn. We're learning every time we go out, and I am feeling better on the big tracks. We raced really well at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hopefully we can find a way to continue doing it, because I really do enjoy that type of racing."

Dodge's next race will be the SunBelt Rentals 100 at Nashville Superspeedway on July 15.

3. Of note: Want ethanol-enriched gasoline for $2.20 a gallon? Well, if you're in the vicinity of Casey's General Store (15441 Wolf Creek Parkway) in Basehor, Kan., on June 29, stop in for a fill-up and meet IndyCar Series drivers Vitor Meira and Jeff Simmons. They are promoting the use of ethanol in Kansas. -- Kentucky Speedway will add two sections of the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier system to close a 56-foot gap in the concrete wall previously used as an access point for the track's safety team. The IndyCar Series competes at the track Aug. 13. ... Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser will be the pace car driver for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb this weekend.

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at 1 p.m. on July 2 at Kansas Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Liberty Challenge on July 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The race will be telecast by ESPN2 at 2 p.m. on July 6.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Bobby Unser , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Geoff Dodge , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing