Homestead: Series Friday notes, quotes

DIXON WINS PEAK MOTOR OIL POLE AWARD FOR GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE INDY 300 HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, March 28, 2008 - Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon claimed the Peak Motor Oil Pole Award for the season-opening GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy...

DIXON WINS PEAK MOTOR OIL POLE AWARD FOR GAINSCO AUTO INSURANCE INDY 300

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Friday, March 28, 2008 - Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon claimed the Peak Motor Oil Pole Award for the season-opening GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the first race since open-wheel racing unified in the U.S., moving forward under the IndyCar Series banner.

With an average of 213.341 mph, Dixon's pole was the first under a new qualifying format that requires drivers to put together a four-lap average speed.

Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter will join Dixon on the front row with a career-best effort (213.311 mph average) in the No. 20 Menards Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Carpenter's teammate A.J. Foyt IV, Andretti Green Racing's Danica Patrick and Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe round out the top five.

Two incidents interrupted the qualifying session. Three-time defending race winner Dan Wheldon and rookie Jay Howard both made contact during their individual qualifying attempts. Wheldon was released from the infield care center and cleared to drive while Howard had an x-ray taken of his right knee. He will be re-evaluated on Saturday prior to the race.

"What a crazy qualifying session," Dixon said. "Two big crashes, four-lap average it was pretty interesting. I think the biggest thing was when it started cooling off. There were a bunch of guys who we didn't think we would have to worry about who ended up having some big laps. Kudos to the Vision team, second and third. That's a big deal.

"We will see about tomorrow. There could be plenty of interesting things tomorrow. The last couple of years at least on my side we haven't qualified real well. Dan has always been fast here."

Miami-resident Raphael Matos claimed the SWE Pole Award for Saturday's Firestone Indy Lights Miami 100.

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This is the eighth IndyCar Series event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dan Wheldon has won the last three races on the 1.5-mile oval. Sam Hornish Jr. holds the qualifying record with a lap of 24.4625 seconds, 218.539 mph set in March 2006. Dan Wheldon won last year's pole with a lap speed of 214.322 mph.

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Two previous winners at Homestead-Miami are entered in the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300: Dan Wheldon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2005, 2006, 2007 winner) and Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2003 winner. Three Indianapolis 500 winners are entered: Dan Wheldon (2005), Buddy Rice (2004) and Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002).

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Panther Racing driver Vitor Meira, who celebrated his 31st birthday Thursday, and fiance Adriana Schettini became husband and wife March 22 at a small ceremony in Las Vegas. The couple was married at the "Little White Wedding Chapel," a popular spot for Vegas weddings. Team owner John Barnes' eldest daughter, Samantha, was married at the spot in 2001, and celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Brittany Spears have been married there.

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi National Guard): "This is a special time; so special I don't even know where to start. There has been open-wheel unification, Adriana and I have been unified in marriage and our team sponsors, Delphi and the National Guard, have made this a perfect start to the 2008 season. I just can't explain as a race fan how excited I am for this year. Even if I wasn't running this weekend I'd be pumped to watch this race. We've been working hard to make this season one of our best and I'm honored to be associated with these team and such great partners."

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Panther Racing's Firestone Indy Lights driver, Brent Sherman, and wife Kathleen welcomed their second child, Madison Paige Sherman, into the world on March 24. The seven-pound, six-ounce baby girl is healthy and remains at home with Kathleen at the Sherman's home outside of Chicago. Sherman is preparing for his first race in Firestone Indy Lights after a career in NASCAR.

BRENT SHERMAN (No. 16 Best Buddies/PEC): "Madison is doing well and now I'm excited to get back to my day job. I'm an old pro at the fatherhood thing, this being my second child. The biggest thing for me is being used to putting on massive-sized diapers and going to the ones on Madison that look absolutely tiny." (About the race) "I really don't know what to expect, it's easy to run out there by yourself and work on setup, but it will be interesting to find out what it's like running three-wide and learning who you can race with and who you need to look out for. It'll be fun. It's strange for me not having pit stops and participating in a sprint race, but I'm excited for my first run in a Panther car."

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KV Racing Technology announced a change to the race strategists for the No. 5 and No. 8 cars driven by Oriol Servia and Will Power, respectively. Jimmy Vasser will be the race strategist for Servia, while Mark Johnson will serve in that capacity for Power.

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KV Racing Technology today announced that Plantronics, Inc. has joined its team of corporate sponsors. Plantronics will sponsor the No. 5 Honda/Dallara/Firestone entry driven by Oriol Servia during the 2008 IndyCar Series season.

Plantronics will be the primary sponsor on the No. 5 car for the first three events of the season, the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300, March 28-29, at Homestead-Miami Speedway; The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, April 4-6, and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 18-20. Following the first three events they will be an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season.

KEVIN KALKHOVEN (Co-owner KV Racing Technology): "We are very pleased to have Plantronics join KVRT. Plantronics is an outstanding company and knows what it takes to build a winner. I for one want to welcome them on board as we begin a new era in open-wheel racing."

DAN HOUSTON (Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales, Plantronics): "KV Racing Technology and Plantronics share a deep commitment to technology innovation and developing products that truly inspire people. We look forward to creating a winning legacy with the KV Racing Technology team."

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RLR/Andersen Racing's Andrew Prendeville and the No. 5 Best Friends Animal Society car made its first PetStop of the season at Miami Dade Animal Services March 27 to promote animal adoptions and volunteerism, and to make people more aware of the work of their local shelter.

During the Firestone Indy Lights season, Prendeville will make appearances in race markets to promote the Best Friends program that assists animal shelters around the world with their programs and operates an animal shelter in Kanab, Utah.

Fans can make pledges to Best Friends Animal Society based on the number of laps Prendeville completes, starting with the Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Visit www.racinglapsforbestfriends.com.

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Several drivers are wandering the paddock looking for potential rides this season. Among the drivers looking for rides are: Adam Andretti, Phil Giebler, Stephen Simpson and Leilani Munter.

"Still looking to get into anything," Andretti said. "I'd love to drive in the Indy Lights or even the IndyCar Series."

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The GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 will include eight rookies in the starting field, tying an IndyCar Series record for most rookies in a season-opening race. A ninth rookie, Graham Rahal, also will be eligible to compete for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year Award when he joins the series at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg April 6.

The eight rookies entered in the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 include Firestone Indy Lights graduates Jay Howard (No. 24 Roth Racing) and Hideki Mutoh (No. 27 Andretti Green Racing) as well as six drivers transitioning into the IndyCar Series: Enrique Bernoldi (No. 36 Conquest Racing), Mario Moraes (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing), Franck Perera (No. 34 Conquest Racing), Will Power (No. 8 KV Racing Technology), Ernesto Viso (No. 33 HVM Racing), Justin Wilson (No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing).

Of the eight rookies, Mutoh has one career IndyCar Series start, finishing eighth in the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway. Wilson made five career starts on ovals in Champ Car while Power made two. None of the other rookies have competed on an oval.

The two drivers who are transitioning to the IndyCar Series who will not be considered rookies are Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia. Junqueira has 21 career starts on ovals, including four Indianapolis 500-Mile Races. He won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 in 2002. Servia has made 27 career starts on ovals.

The Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year Award includes a $50,000 bonus to the rookie who records the most points in the championship standings.

In 2003, Champ Car had nine rookies start the season opener in St. Petersburg. Champ Car had eight rookie starters in the season opener at Las Vegas in 2007.

In 1994, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had eight rookies competing.

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Team Penske owner Roger Penske offered comments on unification this afternoon.

ROGER PENSKE (Owner Team Penske): "I think it's terrific that Tony (George), (Kevin) Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe were able to put together a deal. I love seeing the number of cars on the racetrack. There are new cars, new people. There are a lot of good cars and driver combinations. Some might be at a disadvantage now on the oval, but when we go to St. Petersburg next week it will be a much more level field. You go back many years ago, you had to go to Trenton and Phoenix before you could race at Indy, so I think the good news is we'll have been (at Homestead-Miami Speedway) and Kansas before we get to Indy. From a sponsor standpoint, you'll be able to talk about one series and with that we'll have the ability to see more sponsorship."

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Medical update: Jon Brownson has been checked and released at the Infield Care Center. He is cleared to drive.

JON BROWNSON (No. 34 Westridge Development/SSM): "I just got a little loose coming out of Turn 4 and got up into the rubble a little bit and became a passenger. It's unfortunate. I hate slowing up our track time available to us but I guess that is racing."

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2005 Indy Pro Series champion Wade Cunningham is making a one-off appearance with Brian Stewart Racing this weekend. Team owner Brian Stewart would like to find a driver to contest the remaining ovals in the No. 33 car, but didn't rule out asking Cunningham to drive again. Cunningham, who will turn the car over to his younger brother Mitchell for next weekend's doubleheader at St. Petersburg, has recorded two top-10 finishes in three starts on the 1.5-mile Homestead oval.

WADE CUNNINGHAM (No. 33 Brian Stewart Racing): "It's just for this weekend. Nothing is really planned for the rest of the season." (About being Brian Stewart Racing's driver coach): "It's really to help my brother, who is driving all the road courses this year. I'll certainly help Juan (Manuel Polar), but I'll be mostly helping my brother."

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PEAK MOTOR OIL POLE QUALIFYING REPORT:

PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying consists of two warm-up laps followed by a four-lap qualifying attempt. Cars are ranked in order based on the fastest cumulative time. Only one attempt is allowed per car. Track qualifying record: Sam Hornish Jr., 24.4625 seconds, 218.539 mph (March 2006). Fastest IndyCar Series lap today: #10 Dan Wheldon, 25.0037 seconds, 213.808 mph (Practice 1.)

At 6:15 p.m. the ambient temperature was 77 degrees with a relative humidity of 53 percent and winds from the east at 9 mph. Skies were sunny. The track temperature was 94 degrees, according to Firestone engineers.

POST-QUALIFYING NOTES

* Scott Dixon wins his ninth career PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award. His last pole came at Twin Ring Motegi in 2007. It his first career pole at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

* This is Target Chip Ganassi Racing's 16th pole in the IndyCar Series and the team's second consecutive pole at Homestead-Miami.

* Ed Carpenter qualified a career-best second. His previous best was fourth at Michigan International Speedway in 2006.

* A.J. Foyt IV qualified a career-best third. His previous best was sixth at Chicagoland Speedway in 2005.

* Marty Roth qualified a career-best 10th. His previous best start was 17th at Homestead-Miami in 2007 and Michigan in 2006.

* Hideki Mutoh was the top-qualfying rookie at a career-best ninth. He qualified 13th in his IndyCar Series debut last September at Chicago.

* Franck Perera was the highest-qualifying driver among those transitioning to the IndyCar Series. He will start 15th.

POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified first): "What a crazy qualifying session. Two big crashes, four-lap average it was pretty interesting. I think the biggest thing was when it started cooling off. There were a bunch of guys who we didn't think we would have to worry about who ended up having some big laps. Kudos to the Vision Team, second and third. That's a big deal. We will see about tomorrow. There could be plenty of interesting things tomorrow. The last couple of the years at least on my side we haven't qualified real well. Dan (Wheldon) has always been fast here."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing, qualified second): "I wasn't quite sure I could quite go that fast. Then as the run was going on, I was thinking, ‘I can't remember what Scott (Dixon) ran, but I know I'm probably in front of him.' Then the last lap, the 212.8 - I thought that may have done it. But either way, this team did such a good job this offseason. Larry Curry did a great job with some of the moves we made and the whole team from top to bottom put a lot of effort in this winter and it shows right here. Now we just have to keep up the hard work and do our job tomorrow night and the rest of the season."

"It's a heck of a way to start a season. The new qualifying format really made things interesting and I like it. The guys put in a lot of hard work this offseason and it showed in qualifying and I think it will show on race day. We have new sponsors with Menards and John Mansville and DirecTV and everybody and it's good to give them a good first night."

A.J. FOYT IV (No. 2 Vision Racing, qualified third): "If I couldn't be on the front row, then I'm glad that my teammate was the one to knock me off. I'm very happy with the run. The car has been good all day and it was good at the test. The guys made the right adjustments for qualifying. I can't wait for tomorrow." (About prospects for the race): "It could be a good day for Vision Racing. The No. 2 car or the No. 20 car could win the race. It would be nice to get Vision's first win."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, qualified fourth): "Considering the day that we had I think we did a great job qualifying in the Motorola car. We really struggled during practice this afternoon. We could not find the right setup all day, but my crew did a great job getting it right for tonight. As the evening goes on, the better the track conditions got. Nevertheless, I am happy with my starting position."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, qualified fifth): "It's really great to be back here in the IndyCar Series. We had a solid qualifying run, and I think we should be in good shape for tomorrow. I'm still getting some track time out here and trying to get back into things, but I think it's been a great start so far. With the merger, it's been exciting to come out here and have 25 cars on the grid. So far, it's been a great first race weekend with Team Penske; they're such a great group of guys to work with and it's a fantastic honor to be racing with this team. I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow and I'm definitely ready to go."

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SWE POLE QUALIFYING REPORT:

SWE Pole Qualifying consists of one warm-up lap followed by a two-lap qualifying attempt. Cars are ranked in order based on the fastest cumulative time. Only one attempt is allowed per car. Track qualifying record: Paul Dana, 28.1746 seconds, 189.745 mph (March 2004). Fastest Firestone Indy Lights lap today: #5 Andrew Prendeville, 28.6783 seconds, 186.413 mph (Practice 1.)

At 8:15 p.m. the ambient temperature was 74 degrees with a relative humidity of 70 percent and winds from the east-southeast at 5 mph. Skies were sunny. The track temperature was 83 degrees, according to Firestone engineers.

POST-QUALIFYING NOTES:

* This is Raphael Matos' second career SWE Pole in Firestone Indy Lights. His previous pole came at St. Peterburg in 2006.

* This is the third pole for AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing The team . won two poles with Wade Cunningham last season .

* Dillon Battistini qualified second in his Firestone Indy Lights debut.

* Sean Guthrie matched his career-best qualifying effort with the third-fastest time. He also qualified third at Iowa in 2007.

* Richard Antinucci qualified fifth for his first race on an oval.

POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc.): "It feels great to win the pole. The team worked so hard during the winter and through the preseason. This just proves to everybody that we can get the job done. It feels great to start up front. It's really important at this track. I hope we can keep it clean and finish the race well to collect points." (Did you have doubts that you could win the pole on a oval): "You always think that this is so different from what I'm used to doing, but I have such a great team supporting me. It's good that I had the confidence in my car and I can trust my car. And at the end of the day, I'm trying my best. But when you have good people in the team, you get good results. I'm very happy that I was able to deliver the results for the team. They deserve it."

DILLON BATTISTINI (No. 15 Panther Racing): "I joined this team last week. It's my second day on ovals and in the Firestone Indy Lights car. The last time I drove this car was my rookie test. So to put that performance in, the team has done an awesome job."

SEAN GUTHRIE (No. 4 Car Crafters Guthrie Racing): "The whole car all weekend has been a great experience to drive, no bad habits at all. So the car is very good. We're really happy. Since the start of the season, Guthrie Racing said that we wanted to finish top three at all the ovals. That's our goal. If we can start there now, we have a great opportunity."

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Enrique Bernoldi , Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Jimmy Vasser , A.J. Foyt IV , Bruno Junqueira , Scott Dixon , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Brent Sherman , Jon Brownson , Ryan Briscoe , Marty Roth , Andrew Prendeville , Paul Dana , Adam Andretti , Richard Antinucci , Chip Ganassi , Will Power , Phil Giebler , Stephen Simpson , Wade Cunningham , Jay Howard , Roger Penske , Sean Guthrie , Mario Moraes , Hideki Mutoh , Dale Coyne , Dillon Battistini , John Barnes , Leilani Munter , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter , Ernesto Viso , Franck Perera , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , KV Racing Technology , HVM Racing , Conquest Racing , Dale Coyne Racing