WHAT: Cleanevent 100, seventh race in 14-race 2005 IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series season.
WHERE: Nashville Superspeedway, 1.33-mile concrete oval
WHEN: 4:45 p.m. (EDT), Saturday, July 16
DISTANCE: 77 laps/100 miles
CARS: Dallara chassis; Infiniti V8 engines; Firestone tires
TV: ESPN2, 3 p.m. (EDT), July 21
SCHEDULE: (all times local; subject to change)
Friday, July 15
9:30-10 a.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
12-12:30 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series practice
2:45 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series qualifying
6:30-6:45 p.m. -- Menards Infiniti Pro Series warm-up
Saturday, July 16
3:45 p.m. -- Cleanevent 100 Menards Infiniti Pro Series race (77 laps/100 miles)
Ten points separate Cunningham, Gregg for series points lead: Wade Cunningham regained the Menards Infiniti Pro Series points lead with a second-place finish June 18 in the Liberty Challenge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Cunningham, who has led the point standings after two of the six races, passed Travis Gregg, a fellow rookie, for the points lead. Cunningham is first on the strength of four consecutive second-place finishes. He is the only driver to finish in the top five at all six races this season. Gregg has led the points three times this season, winning three pole positions and two races. In seven career races on ovals, Gregg has qualified on the front row every time.
This is the most competitive season in Menards Infiniti Pro Series history, with four race winners in six races. After six races in 2004, 76 points separated first and second place. In 2003, the top two drivers were separated by 96 points after six races, while that gap was 28 points in 2002.
Cunningham seeks first win: Cunningham, a former world karting champion, holds the series points lead on the strength of four consecutive second-place finishes. He is still seeking his first victory in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Cunningham's qualifying efforts have improved in each of his last three races on ovals, including a fourth-place start at Texas on June 11.
Cunningham is the first driver in IRL history to finish second in four consecutive races. In 2001, IndyCar Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. recorded three consecutive second-place finishes.
Sam Schmidt drivers rank second, third and fourth in points: Sam Schmidt Motorsports established itself as the team to beat in 2004 when driver Thiago Medeiros dominated the Menards Infiniti Pro Series with six victories in 12 races. This year, the Schmidt camp boasts three drivers fighting for the series championship. Travis Gregg ranks second. Jaime Camara, winner of the Futaba Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, is third, and Chris Festa, an Atlanta native who recently completed his freshman year at Florida State University, ranks fourth.
Sam Schmidt serves as inspiration: Team owner Sam Schmidt continues to serve as an inspiration to many people inside and outside of racing. A former IndyCar Series driver, Schmidt was paralyzed in a 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 with driver Thiago Medeiros. Medeiros led all 77 laps at Nashville in 2004.
JAIME CAMARA (No. 1 CELG-Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "The race at Nashville Superspeedway should be very good. Last year, Sam Schmidt's car dominated the race, and I think everyone at the team is really excited to get back to the track. I'm hoping the weekend will be very successful for me and for the race team. Every track Sam had success last year, we've had really good cars this year. I feel we'll all three be ready to go."
"They've been giving me a hard time over going to a Southern racetrack but, hey, I'm the southernest Southerner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Anybody from further south than Brazil or live further south than Miami? Hey, in my neighborhood (Miami), Nashville is 'up North.' Now all I need to do is figure out how to say, 'Ya'll' in Portuguese."
WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Visit New Zealand Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "We were really, really quick at Nashville when we tested there. We went there with a really good setup. The team did a reasonable job there last year. We went there and improved it some more. I was really happy with how the day ended up, and we've got a little bit more coming."
"There are no surprises coming up, which is really good. We've got two road courses, two tracks that we've tested at. Kentucky I've been to, and Chicago and California are just like the other mile-and-a-half, two-mile ovals, so the rest of the season is pretty panned out, which is good."
(About the importance of qualifying well) "I was really happy with how we qualified at Texas, which was fourth. We were so close to the front. If I would have run just slightly different we could have improved two positions, so to be on the front row would have made the race a lot easier. For sure on these small tracks, it's going to be important to qualify really well."
CHRIS FESTA (No. 19 SpacePak/CareCentric/SSM Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "This weekend will almost be like a hometown race for me. It's a short trip - it's only about three and a half hours to drive from Atlanta. Maybe some of my friends will get to see me race so they'll know what I've been trying to tell them all these years about why I like open-wheel racing better than stock cars. I'm looking forward to racing at Nashville. It'll be interesting to deal with the concrete track surface and the high speeds. Sam (Schmidt) has had a lot of success racing at Nashville, so I know I'll have a great car − that means I'll be able to focus on racing the track and working on the best line around the track."
TRAVIS GREGG (No. 7 Lucas Oil Products Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "Nashville Superspeedway hasn't been around for a long time, but it's already starting to build a tradition. I know the people in the area are great fans of motorsports, and that makes you feel pretty good. The racing in the IRL and Menards Infiniti Pro Series has been great all year. True, it won't be like the old slam, bang stock car races they used to have at the track at the Fairgrounds, but I think the folks who come out are going to see a great race. The competition in the Pro Series and IndyCar Series is pretty stout -- if you like passing, you're going to see a lot of it."
"I'm really looking forward to it. I was able to get a couple hours of track time a few weeks ago to familiarize myself with the track. Being a concrete oval, it has some bumps and a slightly different grip level than the asphalt tracks. Car setup is going to be key. I'm ready for the challenge, and I'm ready to fight to regain the points lead."
ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 3 Karcher Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone): "I think the biggest thing about Nashville is the surface. It's concrete, so it reacts differently to the cars. I think it will be a pretty challenging race, because it's going to be late in the afternoon. It'll probably be pretty hot. It differs a lot from the small tracks and the big tracks, because it's kind of in between, so you can get flat there for qualifying, but for the race, it's pretty difficult. You're going to see a lot of cars going away towards the end of the race, so I think it's going to be a question of how hot it is, and if your car is good enough to deal with all the conditions of the track."