IPS: Fontana: Season finale preview

WHAT: California 100, 14th race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season. WHERE: California Speedway, 2-mile, D-shaped oval WHEN: 1:15 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, Oct. 16 DISTANCE: 50 laps/100 miles CARS: Dallara chassis; Infiniti...

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

WHERE:
California Speedway, 2-mile, D-shaped oval

WHEN:
1:15 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, Oct. 16

DISTANCE:
50 laps/100 miles

CARS:
Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8 engines; Firestone tires

PREVIOUS RACE WINNERS:
2004 -- James Chesson; 2003 -- Mark Taylor

TV/WEBCAST:
ESPN360.com, Live;
ESPN2, 3 p.m. (EDT), Oct. 20

SCHEDULE: (all times local; subject to change)

Saturday, Oct. 15
9-9:30 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
11-11:30 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
1:30 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series SWE Race Car Parts pole qualifying
4:30-4:45 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series warm-up

Sunday, Oct. 16
10:15 a.m. -- California 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race (50 laps/100 miles)

PRE-RACE NOTES:

Champion will be crowned at California Speedway: For the third consecutive season, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion will be crowned at California Speedway. In the past two seasons, Mark Taylor and Thiago Medeiros earned the title in the season's penultimate race. This year, the championship comes down to the final race of the season. Three drivers remain in contention for the Firestone Firehawk Cup. Points leader Wade Cunningham holds a 33-point lead over Jeff Simmons, who has vaulted from ninth to second with four wins in the last six races, and a 41-point lead over Travis Gregg. A maximum of 53 points are available in the series' final race. Cunningham will win the title if he finishes 12th or better. His worst finish this season was 10th at Chicagoland. Simmons can claim the championship if he wins the race and Cunningham finishes 13th or worse. Gregg will be eliminated once the race starts.

Cunningham could win title without a race victory: Wade Cunningham has been the Menards Infiniti Pro Series point leader since the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June when he recorded his series record fourth consecutive second-place finish. Since then, Cunningham has three more seconds, a third, a fourth and a fifth, but he doesn't have a victory. Only two drivers in North American open-wheel racing series have won titles without a race victory. IndyCar Series co-champion Scott Sharp was winless in 1996 in a season that featured only three races, and Oriol Servia won the Indy Lights championship in 1999 on the strength of five seconds and three poles. Cunningham has finished second seven times.

Simmons surges to the front: Connecticut native Jeff Simmons has improved from ninth to second in the championship point standings in a period of six races. Victories at Milwaukee, Pikes Peak, Chicagoland and Watkins Glen, as well as two top-five finishes have moved Simmons into contention for the championship. Simmons was the Menards Infiniti Pro Series runnerup in 2003 and competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 2004.

Closest points battle in series history: This is the most competitive season in Menards Infiniti Pro Series history with Wade Cunningham leading Jeff Simmons by just 33 points heading into the final race. In 2003 and 2004, the series champion was crowned in the penultimate race of the season, round 11 of 12, with final margins of victory of 75 and 134 points, respectively. In the inaugural 2002 campaign, A.J. Foyt IV won the title by 54 points, clinching in the seventh and final race.

Southern California ties: Three Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers have ties to Southern California. Val Verde native Jay Drake, the reigning USAC National Sprint Car champion, drives the No. 20 Vision Racing entry. Drake has five top-five finishes in 12 starts. Taylor Fletcher from San Clemente drives the No. 23 Bullet-Team Motorsports entry. The California 100 will be Fletcher's second start of the season. AFS Racing owner Gary Peterson is from Huntington Beach. Peterson has made 22 starts as a driver in the series. His cars have made 40 starts. Peterson owns Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., based in Huntington Beach.

Pepperdine grad fights for spinal cord research: Menards Infiniti Pro Series team owner Sam Schmidt, a graduate of Pepperdine University, is leading the fight for those with spinal cord injuries. A three-time competitor in the Indianapolis 500, Schmidt was paralyzed in a practice crash in 2000 in Orlando, Fla. Several months later he founded the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. The Foundation will host a "Day at the Races" program at California Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 15, just five days after the anniversary of Christopher Reeve's death. The program allows those with spinal cord injuries behind-the-scenes access at the racetrack.

Mears tutors young racers: Rick Mears, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner who grew up in Southern California, is a driver coach and consultant for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Mears provides guidance and advice to drivers in the series.

PRE-RACE QUOTES:

JAIME CAMARA (No. 1 CELG-Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I expect the weekend to go well. I think we will be competitive and hopefully will be there at the end to fight for the win. It's going to be my first race at Fontana, and from what I've heard it's a very nice track. This year, 2005, was my first season in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, and I think it was a good season. Now I'm thinking about the 2006 season and that I'll do better."

JAY DRAKE (No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I'm excited to go to California for the upcoming Menards Infiniti Pro Series race. Growing up in the L.A. area, that's where my racing career got started. I won my first go kart, TQ (three-quarter midget), and midget races all at Ventura Raceway. My first sprint car win came at Perris Auto Speedway. I'm hopeful that I'll get my first Pro Series victory this weekend at Fontana."

CHRIS FESTA (No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "California is a big track and very fast. We usually have great cars on tracks like California so I am confident that we will get there and really have a good run. It's the last race of the season so I, along with everyone else in the series I'm sure, want to end the season with a big finish, so it will be a tough race as always." (About balancing racing with his sophomore year at Florida State University) "I've been hard at studying since the trip to The Glen. The California race comes at a good time for me to set down the books and race. I just got done with some big tests and a paper, so I'm ready to think about something other than school for the weekend."

TRAVIS GREGG (No. 7 Lucas Oil Products/Sam Schmidt Mspt Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Being out of the points race is disappointing, but I hope to end the year on a good note at California Speedway. My crew and the whole Sam Schmidt Motorsports team has been great all year long. I look forward to being competitive and running up front. I'm only eight points out of second place, so it would be great for the team and for me to move up in the final standings."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 24 Team ISI Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "We have a chance mathematically in the points, but I'm not thinking about the championship much. I'm thinking about winning a race. Winning at California Speedway will be a huge challenge because I don't have a teammate, and I certainly won't have any friends out there, but Team ISI is up to it."

-irl-

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