IRL: Indy Racing League News and Notes 2006-08-09

Today's IRL headlines 1. 1.5-mile ovals key to championship chase 2. Championship Race Quick Hits 3. Fans can race with Fisher 4. Munoz to serve as Kentucky grand marshal 1. 1.5-mile ovals key to championship chase: The Kentucky...

Today's IRL headlines
1. 1.5-mile ovals key to championship chase
2. Championship Race Quick Hits
3. Fans can race with Fisher
4. Munoz to serve as Kentucky grand marshal

1. 1.5-mile ovals key to championship chase: The Kentucky Speedway tri-oval is wide (70 feet) with 14 degrees of banking in the corners.

Points leader Helio Castroneves and Marlboro Team Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. -- who is eight points behind in second -- have found success on the track in Sparta. In four visits, Castroneves has three top-five finishes. Last year, he advanced 10 positions to finish fifth. Hornish, who made his IndyCar Series debut at the track in 2000, won in 2003 and has two other top-five finishes in six starts.

"The race always comes down to the final laps, and I'm not expecting anything different this year," said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Honda-powered Dallara. "We'll definitely look to maintain the momentum from our win in Michigan and put up another strong finish. These last few races are very critical in the hunt for the championship, and I know Marlboro Team Penske is up to the challenge."

So are others. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon has a pair of top fives in three starts at Kentucky (he's finished third the past two years), while teammate Scott Dixon and 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan each have one top-five finish in three starts. Meira's second place in '05 is his lone top five in four visits.

"We're lucky they're not a mile or shorter," Dixon quipped. "We've been pretty toilet on those this year."

Teams will have to avoid a poor performance this weekend and at the Chicagoland Speedway tri-oval with 18 degrees of banking in the corners on Sept. 10. Wheldon won there last year to cap his title, and Hornish has won twice at the Joliet facility.

"The way this is playing out with the road courses and one and a half mile (ovals) finishing the season is definitely a lot better for the fight to the end," Dixon said.

Said Wheldon, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone: "With just three races left, we are that much more motivated to win. I've had fewer wins than any of the other drivers in the hunt, but I'm only 17 points out. It's a great opportunity to show what we have now, and I intend on battling to the end."

2. Championship Race Quick Hits:

Drivers still eligible for championship: 13

Key Championship point statistic: The 13 championship-eligible drivers with three races to go is the most since 2000 when there were 24 drivers eligible. The 2000 schedule was made up of nine races compared to this season's 17 race schedule.

Closest 1-2 point differential since: 2002. With only three races to go, the 2006 points battle (eight points separate first and second) is the tightest that it's been since the 2002 season when first and second place were separated by just four points.

Closest 1-3 point differential since: Thus far, the 2006 season has produced the closest first through third points battle (17 pts) since the 2002 season when first through third were only separated by 13 points.

Closest 1-6 point differential since: Only 67 points currently separate first through sixth in the point standings. This season is the closest that margin has been since 2000 when first through sixth were separated by 38 points.

Championship-eligible drivers with strong results at Kentucky: Dan Wheldon has three starts at the Kentucky Speedway with an average finish of 4.7. Sam Hornish Jr. has made six starts at the facility with an average finish of sixth. Vitor Meira is attempting to score his third straight Kentucky top 10 after finishing seventh in 2004 and second in 2005.

Championship-eligible drivers with poor results at Kentucky: Currently fourth in the points, Scott Dixon has historically struggled in the Bluegrass state. After finishing second in his first race at Kentucky Speedway in 2003, Dixon came across the line 13th in 2004 and 23rd in 2005.

Contender that's hot:

Helio Castroneves -- Coming off of a win at Michigan International Speedway, Spiderman has also managed six top-10 finishes in his last seven races which have helped to vault him to the top of the IndyCar Series point standings.

Dan Wheldon -- Wheldon captured the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it has been his performance of late that have him just 17 points out of the championship lead. The Brit has finished in the top five in four of his last five starts.

Contender that's not:

Sam Hornish Jr. -- Despite three victories and an Indianapolis 500 win this season, Hornish has finished 14th or worse in two of his last three outings, culminating with the loss of the points lead after mechanical failure at Michigan.

Scott Dixon -- After an impressive victory at the Nashville Superspeedway, Dixon looks to regain his championship form after running out of fuel at Michigan resulting in a 16th place finish.

3. Fans can race with Fisher: Fans attending the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Meijer can ride along with Sarah Fisher during her return to the IndyCar Series.

Fans can sign Fisher's racing helmet during the IndyCar Series driver autograph session from 6:30-7:30 p.m on Aug. 12.

"I'm allowing my fans to sign my helmet that I will wear in the race on Sunday because I want to carry them with me the whole way," said Fisher, who recently gave away two pairs of tickets to the Meijer Indy 300 on her official website. "My fans have always been so supportive of my racing efforts from the time I started racing. I have missed them so much that I want them to be on board with me during the race so we can compete in the race together."

Fisher will be wearing a white helmet during the race, which will allow space for fans to sign the helmet. Space, on the helmet will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

4. Munoz to serve as Kentucky grand marshal: Pro Football Hall of Fame member and former Cincinnati Bengal standout Anthony Munoz will serve as grand marshal of the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret.

"Being a little 'heavy-footed' myself, it will be an honor for me to be at the race and be the grand marshal," Munoz said. "The fun thing for me playing football was that the offensive linemen, quarterback, defensive back, equipment manager and trainer had to work in unison to accomplish the same goals. It's the same with racing. When I have an opportunity to be around a team effort, it's exciting for me to see just how everybody works together."

Considered by many as the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history, Munoz is the only Bengal in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Though retired, he remains one of Greater Cincinnati's most accessible and involved advocates.

In 2002, he established the Anthony Munoz Foundation as a non-profit organization that engages the Tri-State region to impact area youth mentally, physically and spiritually. Since its inception, the foundation has reached thousands of children and raised more than $1,000,000 for foundation programs and select charities. Munoz also is involved in a variety of other local, national and international charitable activities.

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Aug. 13 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be telecast live by ABC Sports and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Kentucky 100 on August 13 at Kentucky Speedway.

-credit: IRL

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing