INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- July 28, 2005 Today's IRL headlines 1. Bell back behind wheel of Panther's No. 2 2. Bussell: In the shadows, within striking distance 3. Harris looks forward to catching up 1. Bell back behind wheel of ...
INDY RACING LEAGUE NEWS AND NOTES -- July 28, 2005
Today's IRL headlines
1. Bell back behind wheel of Panther's No. 2
2. Bussell: In the shadows, within striking distance
3. Harris looks forward to catching up
1. Bell back behind wheel of Panther's No. 2: Townsend Bell returns to the IndyCar Series this weekend as driver of the No. 2 ROCKSTAR Panther Racing Chevrolet-powered Dallara in the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Bell, who recorded five top-10 finishes in 10 starts for Panther Racing in 2004, will fill in for Tomas Enge, who is recovering from injuries suffered in an accident during the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway earlier this month.
"We're thrilled that Townsend was available and willing to re-join Panther Racing this weekend," team co-owner John Barnes said. "We are still looking forward to when Tomas Enge gets healthy and can get back in the ROCKSTAR car, but Townsend did a great job for us last year, and we know he'll be able to catch on quickly and have a great run this weekend at Michigan."
Bell, a native of San Luis Obispo, Calif., qualified seventh at Michigan last season and finished eighth.
"It's great to be back," Bell said. "I've been following the races this season, and I know all the Panther boys will make me feel right at home. I was sitting on the beach last year when Panther gave me a call, and I was pleasantly surprised that an opportunity came my way again this year. I hope (Tomas) Enge makes a full recovery, because he has learned what it takes to be competitive in the IRL, and I know how badly he wants to get back in this car."
Enge suffered small fractures to his T-12 and L-1 vertebra. His status will be re-evaluated prior to the Amber Alert Indy 300 Presented by GPS Industries at Kentucky Speedway on Aug. 13.
2. Bussell: In the shadows, within striking distance: The headlines in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series this season have been dominated by points leader Wade Cunningham, the three-pronged attack by defending series champion team Sam Schmidt Motorsports and the exploits of rookie Jay Drake, the reigning USAC National Sprint Car champion. But running consistently well in the shadows has been rookie Nick Bussell.
The 22-year-old from Ionia, Mich., has visited the podium just twice in eight races, but six top-five finishes have kept him within striking distance of the series championship. His second third-place finish of the season July 24 in the Milwaukee 100 moved Bussell into fourth in the points race, within 26 points of third-place Travis Gregg and 66 points of Cunningham.
"The first half of the season for us has been fairly good," Bussell said. "So far, we've pretty much challenged a little bit at every type of racetrack we've run on."
Bussell, who won national karting championships in three classes in 2002, formed a partnership with J.L. West Motorsports in December, pairing a driver with barely more than one year of experience in race cars with a new team in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series.
Despite a lack of pre-season testing, the team gelled well enough for Bussell to record a sixth-place finish at the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a fifth place at Phoenix and a third place on the streets of St. Petersburg. A late-race incident on the oval at Indianapolis resulted in a 15th-place finish in the Futaba Freedom 100, but Bussell rebounded with two more top-five finishes at Texas and the road course at Indianapolis.
The results came without the benefit of a teammate.
"I know on a number of occasions, more than one occasion this year, it would have been nice to be able to compare data and compare information, not even so much looking for the extra help; but more of a confidence thing," Bussell said. "OK, this is right, this is right. OK, what I'm feeling here is right or it's wrong."
When financial difficulties forced J.L. West Motorsports to miss the events in Nashville and Milwaukee, Bussell was left to scramble for a new ride. The search led to Vision Racing, where he inherits Drake and Jon Herb as teammates.
"We're actually committed to running the rest of the year with Vision Racing," said Bussell, who drives the team's No. 9 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. "(Nashville) was our first weekend with the team. It was a last-minute deal. I didn't know if I would be competing the rest of the year. To go into Nashville, have a decent run there, to come (to Milwaukee), knowing this place is what it is, I think we did quite well.
"The new team, learning the communication with my engineer is something I haven't developed over the course of the season with (team manager) Larry (Curry). I think so far we've hit spot-on on what we like to hear out of each other and I think it's been good.
"The teammate thing has been good. At the other team, I didn't have teammates to deal with. I've learned a lot from those guys, we all share data. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year. We're going to be there with those guys and keep trying to get better."
Being better means moving out of the shadows and into the thick of a battle for the championship.
3. Harris looks forward to catching up: Like its ESPN counterpart, fans won't miss any IndyCar Series action July 31 when ABC televises the Firestone Indy 400 from Michigan International Speedway.
During commercial breaks, the popular "side by side" will show the race with leaders' names on the left and the advertiser's commercial with audio in a larger box to the right.
Five of the next six IndyCar Series races will be broadcast on ABC. Todd Harris will handle play-by-play duties, while veteran analyst and former IndyCar Series driver Scott Goodyear will serve as analyst. Jack Arute, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jamie Little will cover the pit areas.
Harris said his first season in the broadcast booth for ESPN and ABC has been "fantastic."
"They've surrounded me with such good people, it hasn't been as difficult as I had initially thought it would be," said Harris, who previously covered the action in the pits. "And the drama on the track, which is really the most important thing, has been fantastic.
"Dan (Wheldon's) run in the early season has been intriguing. He's such a great personality that it's brought a lot of people out. Obviously, Danica (Patrick) being who she is and what she's been able to do has been a plus as well.
"But I think our focus this year has really been on the personalities. For me, that's made it a lot easier, not having to do a lot of the technical aspects and focusing on more mechanical things, but more or less pictures, people, stories and drama. I think we've had plenty of that as you've seen in the first seven to 10 races."
ABC's coverage of the 89th Indianapolis 500 on May 29 soared in the ratings, and Harris said broadcast and Lingner Productions personnel are excited to have the IndyCar Series back on the network.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm, anticipation to get back on ABC, where obviously we'll have more viewers that will be tuning in," he said. "I think we're going to keep people up to speed, and I think that's the first matter of business for us. What we're going to do is if you haven't been watching us since then, here is what you've missed, and here is what we have as we move forward on ABC.
"People have gotten hooked on open-wheel racing, whether it was (Wheldon's) win maybe in St. Pete, which was such a scenic race, or the Indianapolis 500, and the ratings increase there. People are really starting to take notice of the IndyCar Series. We just hope that we can kind of get out of the way of the rolling ball and just keep building it."
The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Firestone Indy 400 on July 31 at Michigan International Speedway. The race will be broadcast by ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The race broadcast will also be carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152 (XM Extreme). ESPN2's telecast of the Milwaukee 100 is scheduled for 3 p.m. (EDT) on July 28. The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Courier-Journal 100 on Aug. 13 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be telecast on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 18. The next episode of "The Fast Life," ESPN2's behind-the-scenes series about the IndyCar Series, airs at noon (EDT) on Aug. 7.