IRL: Richmond: Rahal Letterman Racing preview



HILLIARD, Ohio - Scott Sharp (#8 Patron Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and Jeff Simmons (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) will go from the second-shortest oval on the IndyCar circuit to the absolute shortest as the Rahal Letterman Racing squad will trade last week's 7/8-mile Iowa track for the cozy 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway layout this weekend.

The team heads to the D-shaped Richmond layout in hopes of duplicating its results from last week where both Sharp and Simmons started in the top six for the first time this year, and Sharp led his first laps of the season on his way to a season-best third-place finish. Simmons' result was nowhere near as good as he deserved, as the luckless Boston College grad was caught up in an accident not of his making while threatening for a top-five berth. Sharp's finish moved him into seventh place in the season standings after eight of 17 races, while Simmons maintains his hold on the 11th position.

The oval features a similar banking to last week's Iowa Speedway, with 14 degrees of banking through the turns, but where Iowa seemed to have drivers constantly turning, the Richmond track features a front stretch that runs for nearly a quarter-mile--making up more than 30 percent of the entire track length!

"Racing Indycars under the lights at Richmond doesn't get any more exciting! To think that our cars can be driven close to flat out all of the way around a tight 3/4 of a mile track is unbelievable," Sharp said. "There is always a lot of action and consistent handling is what is needed! We've built some strong momentum with the Patron Rahal-Letterman Team and I'm fired up to take that into Richmond!!"

Sharp's third-place finish was his best in nearly two full seasons of IndyCar Series competition, and he not only carries that momentum into the weekend, but also the confidence gained by a good run last season in Richmond. Last year saw Sharp post his best result in six previous Richmond visits, starting second and finishing fifth.

Simmons matched a career high in Iowa by qualifying sixth before his accident ended his day. He has only 59 laps of previous experience at Richmond however as his maiden voyage there a year ago saw his night ended with an accident that left him to finish 19th.

"We had a strong car in Iowa, but got caught up in another car's accident and came away with a very disappointing finish," Simmons said. "Myself and everyone at Team Ethanol are eager to try to rebound at Richmond, which is another super-fast and demanding short oval, and score some points to try to get into the top-10 in the standings."

The SunTrust Indy Challenge will take place Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and can be seen live on ESPN. The Indy Cars will kick things off on Friday with two practice sessions slated prior to single-car qualifying. The run for the AAMCO Transmissions Pole will take place at 7:30 p.m. local time on Saturday and fans can follow all of the action via the timing and scoring feature on

Rahal Letterman Racing Richmond Notes:

This will be the seventh time that the Indy Cars will compete at Richmond International Raceway. The D-shaped track is the shortest ever to host the IndyCar Series, and it is the shortest to be on any major open-wheel circuit since 1969. Open-wheel cars actually raced on a dirt track that would later become RIR in 1946, when three-time Champ Car titlist Ted Horn won an event--although that event was not officially a part of the AAA National Championship that season.

Scott Sharp broke a league record with his polewinning performance in Texas, snapping an 87-race streak between pole positions. The pole was the sixth of Sharp's career and his first since the Kentucky event in 2001. Sharp will make his 137th IndyCar Series start, the most in league history. Sharp expects to make his 130th consecutive start which is also a IndyCar Series record. His 77 top-10 finishes are also a league record, two more than the 75 put up by Sam Hornish Jr.. He has finished all but 13 of the 1,569 laps of competition run this season, which is second to points leader Dario Franchitti in the series. He started on the outside of the front row last year in Richmond and parlayed that starting spot into a fifth-place finish, his second top-five result in Richmond.

Jeff Simmons will make his 23rd IndyCar Series start this weekend and comes off a Iowa race that saw him match a career-high with a sixth-place qualifying result. He has led laps in two of the last four races and has finished in the top ten in four of his last six starts. In his four previous IndyCar starts on short ovals, his best finish came at Richmond last season when he placed ninth.

Team Facts - RLR has competed in four of the six Richmond races that the IndyCar Series has run since hitting the NASCAR track in 2001. Last season was the first in those four years that RLR did not finish in the top 10. The team's best finish in Richmond came in 2004 when Vitor Meira finished second to Dan Wheldon. Buddy Rice qualified on the outside of the front row for the 2004 event. RLR's last win came at Michigan August 1, 2004 (Buddy Rice). The team's current winless streak stands at 44 races. Rahal Letterman Racing has won 19 races and 30 pole positions since its inception in 1992 as Rahal Hogan Racing. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 19 wins only five have come on a oval track of one mile or less, the last being Michel Jourdain Jr.'s win at Milwaukee in 2003. Of Rahal Letterman Racing's 30 pole positions, four have come on short ovals, the most recent being Vitor Meira's at Milwaukee in 2004. In 72 IndyCar Series races RLR has captured 10 pole positions, won three times, collected 15 podium results (top-three) and 34 top-five finishes while leading 678 laps.

-credit: rlr

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Dario Franchitti , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Sam Hornish Jr. , Michel Jourdain , Vitor Meira