IPS: IRL: Kentucky: Pre-race notes

Champion's Club: The 2003 "Belterra Casino Indy 300" field will feature a collection of the best open-wheel drivers in the world. Among them are five Indianapolis 500 champions in Al Unser, Jr. (1992, 1994), Buddy Lazier (1996), Kenny Brack...

Champion's Club: The 2003 "Belterra Casino Indy 300" field will feature a collection of the best open-wheel drivers in the world. Among them are five Indianapolis 500 champions in Al Unser, Jr. (1992, 1994), Buddy Lazier (1996), Kenny Brack (1999), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002) and Gil de Ferran (2003). In addition, five IRL IndyCar Series champions are scheduled to participate including Scott Sharp (1996 co-champion), Brack (1998), Greg Ray (1999), Lazier (2000) and Sam Hornish, Jr. (2001, 2002). A.J. Foyt IV, the 2002 Infiniti Pro Series champion and Kentucky Speedway race winner, will be shooting for his second-straight Kentucky Speedway win in the Belterra Casino Indy 300. Overall, the 21 drivers entered in the "Belterra Casino Indy 300" have combined for 108 IRL or CART victories, 92 pole positions and 1,581 starts.

Titanic Toyotas: Toyota Engines have proven to be the dominant IRL IndyCar Series power plant. Led by Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon's three wins, Toyota has powered its drivers to a total of nine wins and nine pole awards through 11 events. Other Toyota winners were Marlboro Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves (2) and Gil de Ferran (2), Alex Barron (1), and Al Unser, Jr. (1). Andretti Green drivers Bryan Herta and points leader Tony Kanaan have spoiled Toyota's clean sweep hopes by taking wins this season in their Honda-powered machines.

Chevy's Chase: A full complement of six drivers will attempt to guide Chevrolet to its first win of the IRL season with the new Gen IV engine this weekend. Drivers Robbie Buhl, Sarah Fisher, two-time series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., two-time Kentucky race winner Buddy Lazier, Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira will attempt to knock Toyota off its dominat- ing win perch. Toyota power has taken nine wins and Honda two through 11 events. Hornish, Jr. nearly brought Chevrolet its first win when he drove to a second-place finish with the new engine in Michigan three weeks ago. Rice brought home a 14th place finish with the Gen IV at Gateway last week.

Consist-roneves: Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves earned his first victory of the season last week at Gateway International Raceway. It was his first win in a 20-race span since he took his second consecutive Indy 500 win on May 26, 2002. While Castroneves didn't post a win between the Indianapolis and Gateway events, he proved to be one of the most consistent IRL drivers by finishing second seven times while charting a total of 16 top-10 finishes.

Eleven Million Dollar Man: Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran made his 10th career win his most special by taking his first Indianapolis 500 win in his fourth career start at the fabled "Brickyard." His $1.35 million Indy payday moved his career earnings past the $10 million mark in his 148th career start since his rookie season in 1995. Since his Indy 500 win, de Ferran has posted a win at Nashville, four third-place finishes, a seventh-place finish and an eighth- place finish to push his career earnings to $11,182,408 entering "The Belterra Casino Indy 300." He is making a strong push toward his third career national open-wheel and first IRL championship. "The Professor" enters his second Kentucky Speedway start trailing points leader Tony Kanaan by only seven. De Ferran started 10th and finished 21st in his Kentucky debut last season.

Dixon The Dominator: Scott Dixon is enjoying his first IRL IndyCar Series season after moving over from the CART Series this season. Through 11 starts this season, Dixon leads the series in wins with three and pole awards with four. He led the series standings by one point over Tony Kanaan entering last week's event at Gateway, but was knocked out of the lead when he posted his first DNF of the season after his gearbox gave way with just 42 laps remaining in the race. Despite his Gateway misfortune, Dixon enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" fourth in the series points standings. He owns a total of five top-five and seven top-10 finishes and trails Kanaan by 24 points. Dixon charted the best of his two CART seasons in 2001 when he took home rookie-of-the-year honors and finished eighth in the series points standings.

Kentucky Karma: Kentucky Speedway brings out the best in Ohio native Sarah Fisher. She enters this week owning three top-five finishes and five top-five starts through 43 career IRL IndyCar Series starts. She led laps in only three of those races. Fisher has generated two of her top-five starts and one of her top-five finishes in "The Belterra Casino Indy 300." She's also held the lead on two occasions at Kentucky Speedway. Fisher made open-wheel racing history at Kentucky last season by taking her first career pole. She led a career-high 26 laps in that race before posting an eighth- place finish. In 2000, she started fourth, led nine laps and finished third. Fisher's only "off" performance at Kentucky came in 2001 when she started 20th and finished 19th. Fisher could use Kentucky Speedway as a staging point for another career milestone. She enters this week 18th in the series standings, tying her career-best IRL championship finish. With five races remaining in the season, a strong Kentucky performance could spark a career-best points finish.

Land of Kanaan: Andretti Green driver Tony Kanaan is feasting on the riches of the IRL in his first year after racing on the CART circuit for the past five years. Kanaan entered "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" with the series points lead after engineering a win at Phoenix and a total of eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes. He also is second on the series in pole awards won with three and is third in laps led with 282. Kanaan has earned more than $1.3 million through 12 starts this season. He has led the series standings a total of nine times this season.

Super Sub: Driver Alex Barron is making the most of his opportunity as a substitute drive with Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing. Since filling in for injured 2002 "Belterra Casino Indy 300" winner Felipe Giaffone, Barron turned in a fifth-place finish at Nashville, authored a win at Michigan and finished 16th at Gateway after a gearbox failure. Barron continued his success at the Indy 500 with Mo Nunn by charting a sixth-place finish this season, good for his second straight top-10 finish in the event. Barron was the event's co-rookie in 2002 after leading seven laps and finishing fourth. Barron also spelled the injured Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske at Twin Ring Motegi and finished 17th after being involved in an on-track incident. Last season, Barron finished fifth in the IndyCar Series standings after driving to 11 top-10 finishes with Blair Racing. That organization is not operating an IndyCar Series team this season. Barron enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" 19th in the series standings after five starts. His audition for a full time ride continues this weekend at Kentucky Speedway where he started 16th and finished ninth in 2002.

Brack Attack: Team Rahal driver and 1998 IRL Champion Kenny Brack returns to the league full time in 2003 after racing the past three seasons on the CART circuit. Brack posted three top-10 points finishes during his IRL hiatus. His best CART points finish was second to Gil de Ferran in 2001. That year he took four wins and six pole positions. Brack's championship form remains intact as he enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" fifth in the series points standings after posting four top-five and seven top-10 finishes through 11 starts. Brack's best finish of second came at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and his recent 18th place finish at Michigan broke a streak of five straight top-10 finishes. Brack, who also won the 1999 Indianapolis 500, will make his first start at Kentucky Speedway this weekend.

Legendary Legacy: In just four IRL IndyCar Series seasons, Kelley Racing driver Al Unser, Jr., has become one of the series' most consistent drivers. Through 46 career IndyCar Series starts, Unser, Jr., has posted three wins, 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. Unser, Jr. has posted wins in three of his four IndyCar Series seasons and is one of the most decorated active drivers in open-wheel racing. He owns two CART Championships (1992, 1994), two Indy 500 wins (1992, 1994), two IROC Championships (1986, 1988) and two 24 Hours of Daytona championships (1986, 1987). After charting a win at Texas, three top-five and six top-10 finishes this season, Unser, Jr. is in striking distance of his first IRL championship. He enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" sixth in the series standings and 98 points behind series leader Tony Kanaan.

On Target: Super IndyCar Series sophomore Tomas Scheckter earned his reputation as one of the series most hard- charging drivers following his rookie season. The former Red Bull Cheever Racing driver earned three pole awards, started in the top five eight times and the top-10 10 times in 12 starts, but posted his first career series win at Michigan and a total of two top-five and three top-10 finishes. Either mechanical troubles or on-track incidents eliminated him from contention eight of those starts. This season, Scheckter found a new home with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and more consistent on-track results. Scheckter enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" eighth in the series points standings and 111 points behind Tony Kanaan after taking three top-five and seven top-10 finishes. Scheckter enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" riding a streak of four straight top-10 finishes that started in Kansas with a ninth-place finish and continued in Michigan with his season-best third-place finish. Scheckter completed 89 of a possible 200 laps at Kentucky Speedway in 2002, starting 17th and finishing 22nd.

Battling Back: At age 22, Sam Hornish, Jr. became the youngest champion of a major North American open-wheel series in 2001 and, one year later, became the first two-time IRL champion. Through his 28 starts in those two seasons, Hornish, Jr. drove to eight wins, 22 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes while leading 1,419 race laps. He enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" in unchartered waters, having led only 13 race laps this season and standing seventh in the series standings. He is 101 points off the championship pace of Tony Kanaan. Hornish, Jr., still owns three top-five and seven top-10 finishes through 11 starts. Hornish, Jr.'s season-best second-place finish came at Michigan, where he debuted the new Chevrolet Gen IV engine and just missed his first win of 2003. Hornish, Jr. will be one of six drivers with Gen IV engines this weekend at Kentucky Speedway as the engine manufacturer searches for its first win of 2003 in "The Belterra Casino Indy 300." Hornish, Jr., is a favorite to deliver the elusive first win this weekend as he's finished second, third and ninth in his three career Kentucky starts.

Razor Sharp: Kelley Racing driver Scott Sharp hopes to put up his third straight top-10 finish of the season and third straight top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway in the August 17 "Belterra Casino Indy 300." Sharp enters the week ninth in the series standings with a total three top-five and five top-10 finishes this season. Sharp started the season a fifth- place finish at Miami, a seventh-place finish at Phoenix and a win at Twin Ring Motegi, but didn't chart his next top-five finish until Michigan, where he finished fourth. Odds of Sharp continuing his top-10 streak are good this week as Sharp already owns a pole award, a second-place finish and fourth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway through three career starts.

Wheldon Watch: Andretti Green Racing IndyCar Series rookie Dan Wheldon is a driver to watch this weekend as he competes in his first "Belterra Casino Indy 300." Wheldon made his series debut with Panther Racing last season in Chicago and posted a 10th-place finish after starting seventh. Wheldon joined Andretti Green last November and has raced to two top-five and two top-10 finishes in just nine starts this season. He enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" on a hot streak after posting respective fourth- and fifth-place finishes at Nashville and Gateway. Wheldon is challenging Roger Yasukawa for top series rookie honors and enters the week just 26 points behind his rookie circuit mate. The Honda-powered Wheldon, an Emberton, England native, may have the upper hand on his nearest rookie competitor this weekend after beating Sarah Fisher's series track record speed of 221.390 mph by 0.248 of a second this past June during a test session. Wheldon's fastest lap of 221.638 mph is not considered a new series track record because it did not occur under race conditions.

Yasuka-wow!: Super Aguri Fernandez Racing IRL IndyCar Series rookie Roger Yasukawa enters "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" 12th in the series points standings and is making a strong run at achieving series rookie-of-the-year honors and a top-10 points finish. Beginning with the Indy 500, Yasukawa has engineered four top-10 finishes in his past eight starts. The 25-year-old holds a 26-point advantage over his closest rookie-of-the-year competitor, Dan Wheldon of Andretti Green Racing, and is 40 points away from cracking the top-10 in the overall series standings for the first time this season. Yasukawa's highest finish of the season was seventh at Kansas on July 6. He led five laps at Phoenix and one lap at Pikes Peak, but on-track incidents forced him to retire from both events. Yasukawa was well prepared for his IRL debut. He scored three Toyota Atlantic Series top-three finishes last season, including a win in his second series start. He also was the 1999 Barber Pro Dodge Series Rookie-of-the-Year and won the 1998 Formula Dodge Western Championship after winning 10 of 11 races.

IRL INFINITI PRO SERIES Second Time Around: This weekend's "Kentucky 100" marks the second IRL Infiniti Pro Series visit to Kentucky Speedway. Last season, A.J. Foyt, IV took the first series Kentucky win after prevailing in a tight 67-lap battle with Ed Carpenter. Foyt, IV went on to win the series championship and has graduated to the IndyCar Series this season. Carpenter is one of five Infiniti Pro Series drivers returning to Kentucky in 2003. Others include Cory Witherill (third in 2002), Arie Luyendyk, Jr. (sixth in 2002), Aaron Fike (14th in 2002) and G.J. Mennen (15th in 2002).

Taylor Made: Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series Fulmar/Panther Racing driver Mark Taylor seems to be more than well suit- ed for his series. The 25-year-old driver enters "The Kentucky 100" leading the series standings by 91 points. Taylor leads the series in wins with five. He took top honors in the first two events of the season and has won three of the past four series races. Taylor also started and won from the pole at both Phoenix and Nashville. He is no stranger to finishing in front of the pack. Prior to joining the Infiniti Pro Series, Taylor earned two wins, one pole and four top-three finishes in British Formula 3 competition last season.

Simmons Sizzles: Twenty-seven-year-old Jeff Simmons is tracking down points leader Mark Taylor in pursuit of the IRL Infiniti Pro Series championship. Simmons enters "The Kentucky 100" trailing Taylor by 91 points. Simmons gained momentum in the series last stop at Gateway when he earned his first career series win. Simmons was the benefactor of a last-lap incident that occurred when Taylor and Brandon Erwin battled for the lead. The two made contact and fin- ished at the rear of the pack to give Simmons the win. In addition to his win, Simmons owns two second-place finishes and a total of five top-five finishes. Should Simmons reel in an IRL title it would be his third career open wheel champi- onship. Simmons became the only two-time Barber Dodge Pro Series winner by taking championships in 1998 and 1999.

Building For The Future: IRL Infiniti Pro Series driver Ed Carpenter's strong sophomore season performance is just one indication that he has a future in IndyCar Series racing. Kentucky Speedway's 2002 runner-up enters this week third in the series standings and trails Mark Taylor by 114 points. Carpenter took the first Infiniti Pro Series win at Indianapolis, generated a second-place finish at Kansas and owns a total of four top-five and six top-10 finishes. Carpenter successfully passed his IndyCar Series rookie test earlier this month at Kentucky Speedway.

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Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing