IPS: IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2008-09-06

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines 1. IndyCar Series reaches thrilling conclusion at Chicagoland 2. Championship contenders teleconference 3. 7-Eleven renews sponsorship of AGR, Kanaan 4. Relaxed Lloyd looks for ninth win in...

Today's IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series headlines
1. IndyCar Series reaches thrilling conclusion at Chicagoland
2. Championship contenders teleconference
3. 7-Eleven renews sponsorship of AGR, Kanaan
4. Relaxed Lloyd looks for ninth win in season finale

1. IndyCar Series reaches thrilling conclusion at Chicagoland: A pressure-packed IndyCar Series championship race that reaches its crescendo this weekend is an extension of a compelling season in which the past 11 events have been conducted over 13 weeks (seven ovals and four road/street courses).

Predictions that the 17-race schedule would test teams' resolve, drivers' skills and product reliability have come to fruition.

Whether on ovals or road/street courses, the racing has been tight and competitive. In a series that has zero room for error, most of the racing outcomes left both owners and drivers either upset, frustrated or bickering with someone.

Certainly, the summer schedule hasn't lacked drama and color.

Here's a review of the past 11 races, almost all of which have had at least one incident:

The Milwaukee Mile (June 3)
Track: One-mile oval
Top five: Tony Kanaan by 2.5705 seconds over Dario Franchitti; Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon, Vitor Meira.
Who's hot: Franchitti has streak of five consecutive top-five finishes, including a victory in the 91st Indianapolis 500, to take the IndyCar Series points lead for the first time in his career.
Points leader in: Dixon by one over Wheldon. Out: Franchitti by three over Wheldon.

What's Remembered:
* After the race, Danica Patrick confronted Dan Wheldon on pit road because of a Turn 1 incident on Lap 88 in which their cars made slight contact.

Texas Motor Speedway (June 6)
Track: 1.5-mile, high-banked oval
Top five: Sam Hornish Jr. by 0.0786 of a second over Tony Kanaan; Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti, Vitor Meira.
Who's hot: Franchitti extended his top-five finish streak to six. Patrick advanced three positions to claim third. Hornish posted his 19th career victory.
Points leader in: Franchitti by three over Wheldon. Out: Franchitti by 12 over Kanaan.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 87, the cars of Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti made slight contact on frontstretch. Scheckter's car spun through the grass and came to rest at pit exit. He climbed from the car, rushed to the apron and threw his gloves at Andretti.
* On Lap 197, a multi-car incident brought out the caution flag and a lot of finger-pointing. A rolling tire off the car of A.J. Foyt IV almost wrecked Kanaan's race.

Iowa Speedway (June 24)
Track: 0.88-mile oval
Top five: Dario Franchitti by 0.0681 of a second over Marco Andretti; Scott Sharp, Buddy Rice, Darren Manning.
Who's hot: Franchitti made it eight races in a row in the top five. Sharp posted his best finish since winning at Kentucky Speedway in 2005. Darren Manning recorded his best finish since Pikes Peak in 2004.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 12 over Kanaan. Out: Franchitti by 51 over Kanaan.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 1, Dan Wheldon's car spun into Turn 2 and collected Tomas Scheckter's car. Wheldon returned later in the race.
* On Lap 99, a six-car crash on a re-start knocked out cars driven by Danica Patrick, Kosuke Matsuura and Sam Hornish Jr.

Richmond International Raceway (June 30)
Track: .075-mile, high-banked oval
Top five: Dario Franchitti by 0.4194 of a second over Scott Dixon; Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Buddy Rice.
Who's hot: Franchitti won his second race in a row and third of the season. He set a series record by leading 241 laps. Dixon finished second for the fourth time this season, and tied Tony Kanaan's record for consecutive races running at the finish (25).
Points leader in: Franchitti by 51 over Kanaan. Out: Franchitti by 65 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* Surprisingly nothing on the hectic short oval.

Watkins Glen International (July 8)
Track: 3.37-mile, 11-turn road course
Top five: Scott Dixon by 6.2591 seconds over Sam Hornish Jr.; Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti.
Who's hot: Dixon closed the points gap with his second road course win of the season. He's won all three races at Watkins Glen, tying Dan Wheldon for the series record. Hornish posted a career high on a road course.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 65 over Dixon. Out: Franchitti by 47 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 29, the cars driven by Hornish and Kanaan made wheel-to-wheel contact in Turn 6. They continued. But on the cool-down lap, Kanaan cut in front of Hornish's car entering pit lane. That's when it got interesting. After climbing from his car, Hornish confronted Kanaan on pit lane.

Nashville Superspeedway (July 15)
Track: 1.33-mile oval
Top five: Scott Dixon by 2.2400 seconds over Dario Franchitti; Danica Patrick, Sam Hornish Jr., Marco Andretti.
Who's hot: Dixon won his second race in a row. Franchitti posted his 11th consecutive top-10 finish.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 47 over Dixon. Out: Franchitti by 34 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 188, the car driven by Jeff Simmons missed the entrance to pit road and sliced across the grass. The car driven by Kosuke Matsuura, trying to avoid Simmons' car, made light contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 22)
Track: 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course
Top five: Scott Dixon by 2.6917 seconds over Dario Franchitti; Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick.
Who's hot: Dixon won on a road course for second time this season and tied the series record with his third consecutive win.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 34 over Dixon. Out: Franchitti by 24 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 1, Danica Patrick's car ran wide in Turn 4 after contact with Kanaan's car, which did a quarter spin and made wheel-to-wheel contact with Marco Andretti's car. Andretti's car did a half roll and lands upside down in Turn 4.

Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 5)
Track: 2-mile, high-banked oval
Top five: Tony Kanaan by 0.0595 of a second over Marco Andretti; Scott Sharp, Kosuke Matsuura, Buddy Rice.
Who's hot: Kanaan's third victory of the season gave Andretti Green Racing 29 in the IndyCar Series. Andretti finished second, matching his season high. Matsuura tied his career-high finish.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 24 over Dixon. Out: Franchitti by 24 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* On Lap 58, the cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Vitor Meira made contact on the frontstretch and came to rest in the grass in Turn 1.
* On Lap 143, a multi-car accident on the backstretch was initiated by wheel-to-wheel contact between the cars driven by Franchitti and Wheldon. Franchitti's car went airborne and made secondary contact with cars driven by Scott Dixon and A.J. Foyt IV. All drivers were uninjured in the accident.

Kentucky Speedway (Aug. 11)
Track: 1.5-mile, high-banked oval
Top five: Tony Kanaan by 1.7457 seconds over Scott Dixon; A.J. Foyt IV, Marco Andretti, Tomas Scheckter.
Who's hot: Dixon posted his 11th top-five finish. Kanaan won his fourth of the season and the 11th race of his career. Foyt recorded a career best.
Points leader in: Franchitti by 24 over Dixon. Out: Franchitti by eight over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* After taking the checkered flag, Franchitti's car ran into and over the rear of Kosuke Matsuura's car and became airborne. It makes hard contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1. Franchitti and Matsuura are stunned but uninjured.

Infineon Raceway (Aug. 26)
Track: 2.26-mile, 12-turn road course
Top five: Scott Dixon by 0.5449 of a second over Helio Castroneves; Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish Jr.
Who's hot: Dixon swept the three road course races of the season. Franchitti posted his 12th top-five finish.
Points leader in: Franchitti by eight over Dixon. Out: Dixon by four over Franchitti

What's Remembered:
* Racing for the lead on Lap 69, Franchitti and Marco Andretti made contact in Turn 2, sending Andretti's car into the tire barrier and crippling Franchitti's front wing. That made him easy-pickings for Dixon, who went on to win the race and take the points lead.
* Tony Kanaan also could have passed Franchitti and gained valuable points, but he "protected" his teammate and finished fourth.

The Raceway at Belle Isle (Sept. 2)
Track: 2.070-mile, 14-turn street course
Top five: Tony Kanaan (under caution), Danica Patrick, Dan Wheldon, Darren Manning, Kosuke Matsuura.
Who's hot: Kanaan won for the third time in the past four races. Patrick recorded career-high finish. Franchitti gained valuable three bonus points by leading the most laps.
Points leader in: Scott Dixon by 4 over Franchitti. Out: Franchitti by 3 over Dixon.

What's Remembered:
* A Lap 31 restart, five cars came together in Turn 1. Sarah Fisher's and Vitor Meira's cars were eliminated, while Sam Hornish Jr. was able to rejoin the festivities 14 laps later.
* On Lap 48, Danica Patrick's car made contact with Scott Sharp's car from behind, sending him into the Turn 8 tire barrier. Sharp's car was damaged but returned to the track after repairs.
* On Lap 68, cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Tomas Scheckter collided in Turn 2. The drivers had a heated exchange as they left the Indy Racing League medical trailer.
* On Lap 88, Scott Dixon sideswiped the slowing car of Buddy Rice and spun, blocking the path of Dario Franchitti. Dixon said it was accidental and Franchitti said he believed him, but team co-owner Michael Andretti strongly accused Dixon of deliberately wrecking his rival.

It all comes down to Chicagoland Speedway with three drivers battling for the title with three points separating points leader Franchitti from second-place Dixon in the third-closest championship race in league history. And lurking right behind them and very much alive in the chase is third-place Kanaan just 39 points behind the leader.

This all happens at a track that is five-for-five in hosting IndyCar Series races that have a margin of victory of less than a second, including the closest 1-2 and 1-2-3 finishes in IndyCar Series history. Overall Chicagoland has hosted three of the seven closest finishes in league history and three of the six closest 1-2-3 finishes in league history.

Let's not forget that Chicagoland Speedway has hosted the fifth and sixth fastest races in IndyCar Series history.

***

2. Championship contenders teleconference: The three IndyCar Series Championship contenders, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, their team owners (Michael Andretti and Chip Ganassi) and team managers (Kyle Moyer and Mike Hull) were guests on today's Indy Racing League teleconference.

Franchitti, who enters the season-ending race at Chicagoland Speedway with a three-point lead over Dixon, spoke about the pressure of racing for a championship.

Q: None of us can put ourselves in your position going into one race with an opportunity. Maybe the closest is butterflies on the first day of school. Give me your honest feelings, not this race is the same race as any race, but how you feel about going to Chicago this weekend. Are you excited? Are there some nerves?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: "I'm pretty relaxed about it because, you know, with winning the 500 this year, I think it's taken some pressure off my shoulders. I think I was maybe more nervous three or four races ago than I am now. Now it's pretty simple. It's just like doing a one-off race. The result of the race is what counts. If I finish ahead of Scott, I'm looking good. If Scott finishes ahead of me, he's probably looking good."

Hull, who has led Target Chip Ganassi Racing to five Indy car titles in his tenure at the team, spoke of the drama that has surrounded the last few IndyCar Series events.

Q. A lot of people have always kind of said the reason NASCAR is so popular is because of all this compelling soap opera that goes along with it. This year seems like the soap opera has been better in IndyCar racing.

MIKE HULL: "The thing is, (the) IndyCar (Series) is a fantastic place to race. We do need people to watch us race. I don't think we need to turn into the WWF to make it happen, but at the same time the popularity of sports, including NASCAR, including IndyCar, are motivated by small things that happen as time goes on. If the intensity of Andretti Green Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing together can create the intensity that people want to see in action on Sunday, then we're all for it. "

***

3. 7-Eleven renews sponsorship of AGR, Kanaan: Officials with 7-Eleven, Inc. announced Sept. 6 that it will extend its sponsorship of Andretti Green Racing and 2004 IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan's IndyCar Series car.

"Tony has been a winner for 7-Eleven, both on and off the track," said Kevin Elliott, 7-Eleven senior vice president of merchandising. "Our employees and franchisees can be proud of 7-Eleven's association with Tony and the AGR team. He is a competitive, aggressive and principled driver as well as an enthusiastic supporter and customer of 7-Eleven. We look forward to our sponsorship of Tony and to AGR's Racing Team 7-Eleven in its drive to a championship in 2008."

It will be sixth-consecutive season that 7-Eleven has sponsored Kanaan, who won the IndyCar Series championship in 2004 and is one of three drivers still eligible to win the 2007 IndyCar Series crown.

"One of the most important components in racing is consistency, and having 7-Eleven continue as the primary sponsor of the No. 11 car is a key to us winning another championship in 2008," Kanaan said. "I've really enjoyed being a part of the 7-Eleven family since 2003. I believe in their philosophy of customer service and appreciate all the support I receive around the world from management, franchisees, customers and vendors. Our goal each season is to win the championship and the Indy 500, and I look forward to giving 7-Eleven a shot at both in 2008."

7-Eleven has been Kanaan's sponsor since he began racing in the IndyCar Series, and sponsored AGR co-owner Michael Andretti at the Indianapolis 500 in 2003. As part of the extended agreement, Andretti, his son Marco Andretti, as well as AGR driver Danica Patrick may appear in 7-Eleven's 2008 marketing campaigns.

In addition to the Team 7-Eleven sponsorship, 7-Eleven will have a brand presence on Andretti Green's entire stable of IndyCar Series entries.

"The popularity of the Indy Racing League is growing among our customers, so we believe there is a natural marketing fit for us," Elliott said. "Also, Tony and Team 7-Eleven can showcase some of our signature products that they enjoy like daily prepared fresh foods, coffee, Slurpeee and Big Gulp drinks plus our recently branded 7-Eleven gasoline."

***

4. Relaxed Lloyd looks for ninth win in season finale: It's been a busy two weeks for Alex Lloyd. Since clinching the Indy Pro Series championship Aug. 25 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., the 22-year-old hasn't had much down time.

He's had media obligations -- such as interviews across the country; family obligations -- such as preparing for the birth of his first child in the next six weeks; and professional obligations -- such as training and working on plans for 2008.

Now, it's time to get back to what he does best -- driving a race car.

Lloyd has one more chance to shine in 2007 when he looks to finish the season with a ninth victory in the season finale at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 9.

"I'm probably looking forward to this race more than any other race," said Lloyd, who has 18 career top-five finishes in 24 starts. "It's not very often that you can go to a race with the championship already clinched, nothing to prove. I'm going to relax and enjoy it."

Lloyd already has piloted the No. 7 Lucas Oil machine to Victory Lane a record-setting eight times this season, including Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of the two other 1.5-mile ovals where the Indy Pro Series has raced.

"The track itself lends itself to exciting racing," said Lloyd of the Chicagoland facility that has seen three of the five races decided by less than eight-hundredths of a second.

Twenty-three cars are entered in the 67-lap, 100-mile race that will close the sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition. Veteran drivers will have one more opportunity to record a solid finish while newcomers, such as Adam Andretti, hope to make a lasting impression that leads to opportunities for 2008.

For Lloyd, the season finale will close a chapter in his racing career.

"This will likely be my last Indy Pro Series race," Lloyd said. "The series has been so good to me. It's really be instrumental in turning my career around. In a way, it's a sad thing for it to be my final race, but hopefully I'll be going to the IndyCar Series in 2008 and staying in the family."

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be televised live by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Indy Pro Series event is the Chicagoland 100 on Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway. ESPN2's coverage of the race will be televised at 5 p.m. on Sept. 13.

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Darren Manning , Sarah Fisher , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Adam Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd , Mike Hull , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing