IRL: Kentucky: Event preview

Another new name may be added to win list at Kentucky; Tight championship race also continues at Belterra Casino Indy 300 SPARTA, Ky., Wednesday, July 31, 2002 -- Who's next? Four of the last five Indy Racing League events have produced ...

Another new name may be added to win list at Kentucky; Tight championship race also continues at Belterra Casino Indy 300

SPARTA, Ky., Wednesday, July 31, 2002 -- Who's next?

Four of the last five Indy Racing League events have produced first-time IRL winners as America's premier open-wheel series has been exciting and unpredictable this season.

That trend of first-time winners could continue at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway, the IRL's third annual visit to the 1.5-mile track. The race starts at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) and will be televised live on ABC.

Series points leader Gil de Ferran started the trend of first-time winners with his victory June 16 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. Defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. earned his third win of the season and sixth of his career June 29 at Richmond, Va., in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, but the last three events have featured new faces in the winner's circle.

2000 IRL Rookie of the Year Airton Dare earned the first victory for A.J. Foyt Racing, owned by legendary four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, on July 7 at Kansas Speedway in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, while Alex Barron put himself and Blair Racing into victory lane for the first time in the IRL by winning July 20 at Nashville Superspeedway in the No. 44 Rayovac Blair Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

One of the more overdue first-time IRL winners finally won July 28 at Michigan International Speedway, as rookie Tomas Scheckter used a storming drive to climb from 11th to first in the last 27 laps for his first victory in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Scheckter had led more laps than any other non-race winner this year before the breakthrough at Michigan.

So who are the prime candidates to become a first-time winner at Kentucky?

Felipe Giaffone is a win waiting to happen in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone. He is fourth in the IRL standings with 330 points, just 47 behind series leader de Ferran, on the strength of nine consecutive top-seven finishes.

But 2001 IRL Rookie of the Year Giaffone knows that a victory -- and the 50 points it delivers -- will help him climb closer to de Ferran, second-place Helio Castroneves and third-place Hornish.

Popular Sarah Fisher also is contender for a victory -- which would be the first by a woman in major-league North American oval racing -- at Kentucky.

Fisher, a native of Commercial Point, Ohio, produced a stirring drive July 28 at Michigan, leading four of the last 16 laps of the race in the No. 23 Team Smart Blade/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone before finishing eighth. Her first slice of Indy Racing success came in August 2000 at Kentucky, as she led nine laps before finishing third.

Young American drivers Tony Renna and Buddy Rice also could break through for their first wins in their first season of Indy Racing.

Renna, from Deland, Fla., has finished 10th and fourth at Nashville and Michigan, respectively, in two starts this season for Kelley Racing. Rice, from Phoenix, made a stunning debut with Red Bull Cheever Racing at Michigan, starting and finishing second behind fellow rookie teammate Scheckter.

While the possibility of yet another first-time winner is an interesting storyline at Kentucky, the track in the state known worldwide for its thoroughbred horses will play host to the start of the stretch run for the Indy Racing League championship.

The title race is tense and taut, with just four races remaining.

Two-time CART champion de Ferran leads at 377 points and seeks his third consecutive open-wheel series title. His teammate, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves, is second at 365 as Marlboro Team Penske will race at Kentucky for the first time.

Defending series champion Hornish is third at 359 with Giaffone fourth at 330.

None of the four title contenders have been able to shake free from the pack, as de Ferran, Castroneves, Hornish and Giaffone each have finished in the top nine in the last four races.

Could a breakthrough come at Kentucky?

A breakthrough of another sort could occur at this race. 2000 IRL champion and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier could become the first driver in series history to win the same event three consecutive years, as Lazier has triumphed at Kentucky in a Hemelgarn Racing entry in the first two years of this event.

Lazier, 12th in points, is winless in this tough season in the No. 91 Coors Light/Life Fitness/Tae-Bo/Delta Faucet Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone. A record third straight win at Kentucky could vault him into the top 10 in points.

The Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, the new Indy Racing League development series, will race at Kentucky Speedway for the first time at 11 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 11.

A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of the legendary A.J. Foyt, leads the series with 136 points after winning two of the first three races in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

Cory Witherill, the only full-blooded Native American in major-league American motorsports, is second at 102 points with one victory in the No. 92 WSA Healthcare entry fielded by Hemelgarn Racing.

Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, is third with 100 points in the No. 5 Luyendyk Racing entry.

Other prominent drivers in the Infiniti Pro Series are USAC short-track standouts Ed Carpenter and Aaron Fike and actor-driver Jason Priestley.

BELTERRA CASINO INDY 300 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Belterra Casino Indy 300 starts at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) . Sunday, Aug. 11. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 10. Indy Racing League practice sessions start at 9 and 11:30 a.m. (EDT) . Aug. 10, and 9 a.m. Aug. 11 .

The Infiniti Pro Series race starts at 11 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 11. Pole qualifying starts at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 10.

Infiniti Pro Series practice sessions start at 10:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 10 and 8:30 a.m. Aug. 11.

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On the air: The Belterra Casino Indy 300 will be televised live on ABC at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, Aug. 11. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 1 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 11 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 1 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 11, followed by the live race broadcast at 1:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a qualifying wrap-up show at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 10. The area affiliate is WCKY-AM 1360, Cincinnati.

Highlights from the Infiniti Pro Series race will be televised at 6 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 29 on ESPN2.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Belterra Casino Indy 300 and Infiniti Pro Series race are available by calling the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at (888) 652-RACE or online at www.kentuckyspeedway.com.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Alex Barron , Buddy Rice , Tony Renna , Aaron Fike , Jason Priestley , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing