IRL: Indy Racing League notebook 2004-07-06

Indy Racing League News and Notes -- July 6, 2004 Today's IRL headlines 1. Kanaan Finds Himself On Top Of Tight Points Fight 2. Rice-Meira Battle Among Best Ever 1. Kanaan Finds Himself On Top Of Tight Points Fight: Tony Kanaan is in a ...

Indy Racing League News and Notes -- July 6, 2004

Today's IRL headlines
1. Kanaan Finds Himself On Top Of Tight Points Fight
2. Rice-Meira Battle Among Best Ever

1. Kanaan Finds Himself On Top Of Tight Points Fight: Tony Kanaan is in a familiar, although tenuous, position.

The Andretti Green Racing driver leads the IRL IndyCar® Series points standings after seven races, just as he did in 2003. Dan Wheldon trails his teammate 275-247, with Buddy Rice third -- 50 points behind -- after his victory in the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 on July 4. Last year after seven of 16 races, Kanaan led eventual champion Scott Dixon, 247-220.

Consistency has been the key. Kanaan has seven top-10 finishes this season, including two victories. His worst finish is eighth in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February.

"I think the most important thing is championship points," said Kanaan, who finished third July 4 at Kansas Speedway. "Some weekends you have a car to win, some you don't. When you don't, you need to maximize your efforts. (Top-five finishes) pay off."

Kanaan has put himself in position to challenge for the championship by getting the maximum out of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone. He is the only driver to have completed all 1,530 race laps and is the only one to have both started and finished in the top 10 in every race. Kanaan has led 439 laps, with a high of 191 on the way to his victory in the Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

Such efforts will make him difficult to catch as the series reaches the halfway point on July 17 at Nashville Superspeedway. But Kanaan knows how a lead can dissolve with a few poor finishes. Last year, three finishes out of the top 10 in the second half of the season knocked him out of the hunt.

This year, he sees Rice as having momentum.

"I think he's the guy to beat," Kanaan said. "If you look at his starting positions, he's been pretty strong. He has the team. He has the car. They are a very good organization. They know how to win.

"They have the engine, which is unfortunately the same as mine. Different chassis, we can always debate what's better. But the bottom line is they're hooked up, and we're going to keep chasing them to try to start in front of them. They're going to keep chasing us to pass us in the championship.

"It's been a great fight. I think that's what we need. We need each other to pull and to push actually to be better. They're pushing me and I'm pushing them."

Rice, in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Argent/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone, moved ahead of Helio Castroneves into third in the standings with the victory at Kansas and cut Kanaan's lead from 68 to 52 points.

"We've got to earn this," Rahal Letterman Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal said. "The Andretti Green team is an extremely good team. Tony has been tough to beat on a lot of occasions this year. I think he was right. I think both our teams now are kind of pushing each other. Maybe the champion will come from one of these two teams. But there's a lot of racing yet to go. We've got our heads down and we'll see who's there at the end of the year."

Said Rice, who also won the 88th Indianapolis 500: "I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. We'll keep trudging along. We are here for the long haul. We are here for the championship, and we are in points contention."

In the middle is Wheldon, the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year who has two victories this season. A ninth-place finish July 4 in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone was his sixth top-10 performance.

"We just need to move on to the next race," he said. "In a championship as tight as this, it is never good to lose any ground, but the Klein Tools/Jim Beam crew fought back and got us a top-10 finish."

2. Rice-Meira Battle Among Best Ever: The last 10 laps of Buddy Rice's win in the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 not only produced the second-closest finish in IndyCar Series history, it also provided one of the best on-track battles the series has ever seen.

The lead officially changed six times in the final 10 laps, the most lead changes in the final 10 laps of any IndyCar series race. The previous most lead changes in the final 10 laps was four, which occurred at Michigan in July 2003 and Texas in June 2002.

This also was the sixth time that the lead changed on the final lap of the race. Other drivers to make last-lap passes for victory were: Sam Hornish Jr., who twice passed Helio Castroneves for wins at Homestead in February and at Texas in 2001; Alex Barron, who beat Hornish at Michigan in 2003; Jeff Ward, who passed Al Unser Jr. at Texas in June 2002; and Scott Sharp, who passed Gil de Ferran at Nazareth in 2002.

***

The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Firestone Indy 200 at 7 p.m. (EDT) on July 17 at Nashville Superspeedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Cleanevent 100 will take place at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) on July 17. The race will be broadcast by ESPN2 at noon on July 18.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Bobby Rahal , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr.