IPS: Chicagoland: Round 12 preview

PRE-RACE NOTES: Sarah McCune to make series debut: Sarah McCune will become the second woman to compete in the Menards Infiniti Por Series when she debuts at Chicagoland Speedway. McCune tested at Kentucky Speedway with Sam Schmidt Motorsports...

PRE-RACE NOTES:

Sarah McCune to make series debut: Sarah McCune will become the second woman to compete in the Menards Infiniti Por Series when she debuts at Chicagoland Speedway. McCune tested at Kentucky Speedway with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in June 2003. She also participated in the Nunn Motorsports test of seven women drivers at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2004. McCune has an extensive history competing in USAC National Midgets. Mishael Abbott, who competed in four races earlier this season, was the first woman to race in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series.

Chicago native Jon Herb ranks eighth in points: Jon Herb, a Chicago native, ranks eighth in Menards Infiniti Pro Series points. Herb, who started 13 IndyCar Series races from 2000-02, including the Indianapolis 500 in 2001, earned his first career IRL win at Phoenix this year. Herb, whose diverse background includes a high school wrestling championship, Division I football experience, appearances in more than a dozen movies and television shows and a marketing position with a building materials firm, has been racing open-wheel cars since the mid-1990s.

Close finishes mark races at Chicagoland Speedway: In three seasons of racing at Chicagoland Speedway, the margin of victory for every Menards Infiniti Pro Series race has been less than one-tenth of a second. In 2002, Aaron Fike edged Arie Luyendyk Jr. by .0755 of a second, while in 2003, the series had its closest finish when Mark Taylor beat Ed Carpenter by .0170 of a second. Last year, Thiago Medeiros beat Jeff Simmons to the finish line by .0586 of a second.

Tightest points battle in series history: This is the most competitive season in Menards Infiniti Pro Series history. Wade Cunningham leads Travis Gregg by 33 points, with four other drivers within 82 points of the lead. Gregg has recorded three victories this season while Cunningham has established a series record by finishing in the top five in 11 consecutive races. After 11 races in 2004, 101 points separated first and second place. In 2003, the top two drivers were separated by 99 points after 11 races. For the first time in series history, no one has won back-to-back races.

Cunningham still looking for first win: Series points leader Wade Cunningham is looking to record his first series victory at Chicagoland Speedway. Cunningham, a former world karting champion, holds the series points lead despite being winless in his rookie season in the series. Cunningham recorded an IRL-record four consecutive second-place finishes earlier this season and holds the series record with 11 consecutive top-five finishes. A victory for Cunningham also would give Brian Stewart Racing its first victory in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. The team won 31 races in 14 seasons of Indy Lights competition.

Simmons throws hat into the ring: Jeff Simmons, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series runner-up in 2003, is back in contention for the 2005 championship. Simmons was one of the favorites to win the title entering the season, but a series of crashes and mechanical difficulties left him in the back of the pack after the first six races. In the last five races, however, Simmons has recorded victories at Milwaukee and Pikes Peak, a second-place finish at Nashville, a third at Infineon and a fifth at Kentucky. He has climbed into fourth place in the point standings and is just three points out of third.

Sam Schmidt serves as inspiration: Menards Infiniti Pro Series team owner Sam Schmidt continues to serve as an inspiration inside and outside of racing. Schmidt was paralyzed in an IndyCar Series practice crash in 2000. He came back one year later as a team owner. Last year, his team dominated the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, winning the championship and the Chicagoland 100 with driver Thiago Medeiros. The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation will host "Day at the Races" at the speedway on Sept. 10. Individuals with spinal-cord injuries will be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour, lunch, a chance to meet some drivers and on-track activity.

PRE-RACE QUOTES:

JAIME CAMARA (No. 1 CELG-Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "The Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars have a strong history there, and that seems to translate to good cars for us when we show up at a track where the team has been really strong. Chicagoland could be a good weekend for us to do very well."

WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Motorsport New Zealand Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I haven't been to Chicagoland Speedway before, but it's very similar to Texas and Kentucky. We ran reasonably there, two seconds at those 1.5-mile tracks. We'll be pushing hard to stay at the front, but if we keep doing what we we've been doing, we should be alright. We've been the most consistent team so far this season. We've got Watkins Glen coming up, and we know we can excel there."

JAY DRAKE (No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm looking forward to getting back to a mile-and-half oval track. I don't have any other USAC races to run this weekend so I'll be able to focus completely on the task at hand. Hopefully we can put the No. 20 into victory lane at Chicagoland."

CHRIS FESTA (No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Chicagoland is a cool racetrack, and we have had pretty good mile-and-a-half cars all year, so I am feeling really good going into Chicago. We have had some stumbles this year up to this point in the season, but we are really looking to rectify everything - really go out on the track, put it down and get the momentum we had earlier in the season going again so we can end this year on a strong note."

TRAVIS GREGG (No. 7 Lucas Oil Products/Sam Schmidt Mspt Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I raced at Chicagoland last year with Sam (Schmidt Motorsports). It is a little different than Kentucky and Texas, but it is definitely my kind of track. I expect the whole team to run strong there. We need a win to run down Wade (Cunningham) in the points chase, so that is the goal. To get a repeat championship for Sam would be huge. Being a rookie would make it that much better."

SARAH McCUNE (No. 8 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm finally going to get to race. I know that the team is so qualified and I have a lot of confidence in them and they have confidence in me. That's important for any team-driver combination to be successful. I hope there's a good result because I'm really excited about it. I have some sponsors who are interested in next year depending on how well I do in these two races. It's all I can ask for." (About what she's been doing recently): "I decided I would focus on getting an opportunity in higher level open-wheel racing. I wasn't going to take some of the other NASCAR opportunities, because that's not what I wanted to do."

WHAT:
Chicagoland 100, 12th race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season.

WHERE:
Chicagoland Speedway, 1.5-mile asphalt, D-shaped tri-oval

WHEN:
Noon (EDT), Sunday, Sept. 11

DISTANCE:
67 laps/100 miles

CARS:
Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8 engines; Firestone tires

PREVIOUS RACE WINNERS:
2004 -- Thiago Medeiros; 2003 -- Mark Taylor; 2002 -- Aaron Fike

2004 SERIES CHAMPION:
Thiago Medeiros

TV:
ESPN2, 3 p.m. (EDT), Sept. 15

<pre> SCHEDULE: (all times local; subject to change)

Saturday, Sept. 10 8-8:30 a.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice 10-10:30 a.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice 3:45 p.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series SWE Race Car Parts pole qualifying 5:45-6 p.m. Menards Infiniti Pro Series warm-up

Sunday, Sept. 11 12 p.m. Chicagoland 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race (67 laps/100 miles)

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Mark Taylor , Jon Herb , Sam Schmidt , Mishael Abbott , Aaron Fike , Jeff Simmons , Travis Gregg , Sarah McCune , Wade Cunningham , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Thiago Medeiros , Arie Luyendyk Jr.