IRL: Texas Motor Speedway pre-race notes

* IRL Championship Contenders To Make Move At Bombardier Learjet 500k * All-Time Craftsman Truck Series Winner Looks For First Victory at Texas FORT WORTH, Texas (May 31, 2006) -- With the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series coming to...

* IRL Championship Contenders To Make Move At Bombardier Learjet 500k

* All-Time Craftsman Truck Series Winner Looks For First Victory at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas (May 31, 2006) -- With the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series coming to Texas Motor Speedway next week for the June 10 Bombardier Learjet 500k, it will be "moving" day for many of the drivers who hope to contend for the 2006 series championship.

A tight race is forming in the series championship standings and Texas Motor Speedway will be the first superspeedway race since the Indianapolis 500. And as race No. 6 of the 14-event schedule, it could serve as a springboard or a stumbling block for drivers eyeing a title as the season's midpoint nears.

Four of the top five drivers in the current IndyCar Series standings are past series champions and three have won at Texas. Helio Castroneves has a 12-point lead over Marlboro Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. following that event, and is the lone driver among the top five without a series title. Castroneves won the fall 2004 IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway and has three other top-five finishes at "The Great American Speedway" so another strong run could boost his title chances.

Hornish Jr. has been involved in more closes finishes at Texas than any driver. His two wins in the fall of 2001 and '02 were classics. He edged Castroneves by just 0.0096 of a second in 2002 in the closest finish in speedway history, winning the race and the series championship. Hornish Jr. compared his win at Indy on Sunday to his title run in 2002 at Texas when he then drove for Panther Racing.

"It was a lot like Texas," Hornish said of his day at Indianapolis. "In my 2002 championship, we ended up having a problem and we pitted under green. The yellow then came out and Helio got to pit under yellow. We were back in the field and ended up working our way up and we took one away from Marlboro Team Penske. So that was one of the things I was trying to tell them. That was my payback for taking the championship away in 2002."

Hornish's win in 2001 over Scott Sharp by just 0.0188 of a second is the third-closest finish ever at Texas. The recently crowned Indy 500 champion just missed his third win at Texas last June in the Bombardier Learjet 500k when he was nosed at the line by Tomas Scheckter by just 0.0534 of a second.

Defending IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon is third in points and has three top-10 finishes at Texas, including a pair of third-place finishes. He calls the Bombardier Learjet 500k a pivotal race for anyone who is challenging for the title -- a title he would like to defend.

"That is one of the reasons I switched to Target Chip Ganassi Racing because I thought it was the best opportunity for me to retain my title," Wheldon said. "I feel personally capable of being able to win. The team is capable of being able to win. And, it is a case of making the most of that. You are blessed to have it to tell you the truth. We certainly have to make the most of it at Ganassi, because we really do have a great package."

Scott Dixon, the 2003 series champion, is currently fourth in points and has had three top-10 finishes at Texas, including a second-place showing in the fall 2003 race.

Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, is currently fifth in points. He won the Bombardier Learjet 500k in 2004 and has three additional top-three finishes in IndyCar Series races at Texas in his five starts.

Upcoming Race Event

Friday-Sunday, June 8-10
Bombardier Learjet 500k

Indy Racing League IndyCar Series weekend

Thursday, June 8: Oak Creek Homes Qualifying Day, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 6 p.m.; Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, June 9: Sam's Town 400, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; 8 p.m. (TV: SPEED; Radio: Live 105.3 FM)

     Saturday, June 10: Konica Minolta 100, USRA Super Late Model Stock
Cars,  5:45 p.m.

Bombardier Learjet 500k, Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, 8 p.m. (TV: ESPN; Radio: Live 105.3 FM)

Note-All Times Central.

* ELUSIVE TEXAS WIN

Ron Hornaday Jr., driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick, Inc. entry in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, collected his series-leading 28th career victory last week at Mansfield. One Victory Lane that has eluded the Palmdale, Calif., native is Texas Motor Speedway. He will compete at "The Great American Speedway!" in the June 9 Sam's Town 400k. Hornaday Jr. started fourth and finished 10th in both races at Texas in 1999. After a five-year hiatus, Hornaday returned last year to post a pair of top-10 finishes (6th in June, 7th in November). In his six career starts, he has led 218 laps and the sixth in last season's June event was his personal-best at TMS.

* TEXAS SHOWDOWN

The storybook ending at Indianapolis on Sunday sets up a sensational sequel in the super speedway rematch between Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. and rookie sensation Marco Andretti for the Bombardier Learjet 500k. Andretti thought he had a win within his grasp at Indy. Both Andrettis did -- Marco and his father Michael, who finished third. But it was Hornish who made an incredible pass down the stretch to win. Marco and Sam meet again under the lights in Texas with Michael playing the part of team owner and a cheering father.

"I think in a couple of days we're going to sit back and think, 'Oh, wow, who would have ever thought it would come down to that?" Michael said of his son's incredible performance at Indy. "You know, we were running one and two with just a few laps to go in the Indy 500, and he almost pulled it off. I literally put my hand in the air thinking he won the race, and I couldn't believe it. Where did Hornish get that speed? It was like he had a button in there to push. It was just unbelievable. I mean, it was a storybook finish, you know. What are the odds of a father-son coming down for that?"

* POWER LIST

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage was named to The Charlotte Observer's list of NASCAR's most powerful people. The newspaper's annual listing had been limited to 25 names in previous years but expanded to 43 this year -- symbolically tied to the number of cars that make up the starting field for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. Gossage, who has guided Texas Motor Speedway's unprecedented growth through the first 10 years of the speedway, is No. 40 on the list. The top ranking from the Speedway Motorsports Inc. family (parent company of Texas Motor Speedway) was Chairman Bruton Smith and SMI Executive Vice President/National Sales And Marketing Marcus Smith at No. 5. H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, Lowe's Motor Speedway President and SMI President/COO, checked in at No. 19.

* MILESTONE

Dennis Setzer, driver of the No. 85 FlexFuelE85 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, makes his 200th career start in the series Friday night at Dover, Del. and will be in the field for the June 9 Sam's Town 400k at Texas Motor Speedway. The three-time series runner-up has competed in 15 truck series races at Texas Motor Speedway since 1998 and claimed wins in the June event in 1999 and 2004. Eleven of his 15 finishes at Texas have produced top-10 showings, which are the most top-10 finishes of any driver at Texas Motor Speedway. His win in June 2004 with an average speed of 148.959 mph is the fastest speed by a winner in speedway history.

* CHAMP BOWLS

After sipping the milk in Victory Lane, meeting with Fort Worth-Dallas media atop the Observation Deck at the famed Reunion Tower, throwing out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, fielding questions from Live With Regis & Kelly guest host Donald Trump, and appearing on the Letterman Show -- what does the Indianapolis 500 champion do next? He goes bowling.

Reigning Indy 500 champ Sam Hornish Jr.'s first order of business when he arrives in Texas next week for the Bombardier Learjet 500k is to pull out his bowling shoes, polish the bowling ball and host the second annual Sam Hornish Jr. Celebrity Bowling Tournament. The event, which benefits Speedway Children's Charities, is Wednesday, June 7 at 7 p.m. at AMF Showplace Lanes in Euless. A special trophy will be awarded to the media personality with the top two-game average. To purchase a lane in the tournament, contact Speedway Children's Charities-Texas Chapter at 817-215-8564.

* LAST LAP

Rhome, Texas Mayor Mark Lorance won the Mayor's Challenge Series Cup at Texas Motor Speedway. Each Saturday night during the month of May, area mayors competed in Legends cars to determine the top mayoral driver in north Texas. Lorance claimed the title over Murphy Mayor Bret Baldwin, Flower Mound Mayor Jody Smith, and North Richland Hills City Councilman Scott Turnage in the championship finale.

-tms-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , NASCAR Truck
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Kevin Harvick , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Dennis Setzer , Dan Wheldon , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske