Phoenix: Round one preview

NEW ERA OF SILVER CROWN RACING BEGINS THIS WEEKEND AT PHOENIX INDIANAPOLIS -- After nearly a year and a half of planning, testing, tuning and preparing for what is the future of pavement racing in the USAC Silver Crown Series, drivers, owners...

NEW ERA OF SILVER CROWN RACING BEGINS THIS WEEKEND AT PHOENIX

INDIANAPOLIS -- After nearly a year and a half of planning, testing, tuning and preparing for what is the future of pavement racing in the USAC Silver Crown Series, drivers, owners and crews will test new ground Jan. 21-22 with the traditional running of the "Copper World Classic" at Phoenix International Raceway.

A dozen cars, built and prepared by four car constructors, are expected to be on hand when the green flag flies for the season-opening 50-lapper, one of nine pavement races on the 14-race schedule.

Leading the way will be two-time defending series champion Dave Steele (Tampa, Fla.) driving for the first time with Team Six-R Racing in a C&R-built chassis. Steele is the only driver since 2002 to take a checkered flag in the Silver Crown Series, having taken the last four series races on the one-mile oval. A victory would make Steele the first driver to win an event five straight times in series history.

"The car drives very nicely," said Steele, second on the series' all-time victory list with 14 wins. "We're obviously embarking on a new era and would love to be the first to win in the new car. I've done well here before, and I'm just going to give it our all in winning here again."

Steele's teammate, 1998 series runner-up Brian Tyler (Parma, Mich.) is one of several veterans seeking to become the first winner in the new cars. Others include 1997 series champion Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.), 2004 Rookie of the Year Aaron Pierce (Muncie, Ind.), 2005 "Most Improved Driver" Wayne Reutimann Jr. (Zephyrhills, Fla.), five-time race runner-up Jerry Coons Jr. (Tucson, Ariz.) and 2004 series runner-up Bud Kaeding (Campbell, Calif.). Coons and Kaeding will have the support of NASCAR veterans and former USAC Silver Crown regulars Carl Edwards and Jason Leffler, respectively.

Five Rookie of the Year candidates are also expected to compete: open-wheel veteran Rodney Weesner (Portland, Ind.), Formula-car racing star Pablo Donoso (Santiago, Chile), former USAC Russell Pro Series champion Tim Barber (San Francisco, Calif.), multiple-time Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway Supermodified champion Greg Furlong (Oswego, N.Y.) and 2005 United Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year Bryn Gohn (Malabar, Fla.).

Several drivers have tested at Phoenix since their owners took possession of the new cars, and are excited to participate in the series' newest era.

"This is a very exciting time for this series," said Pierce, who will drive a Riley Technologies chassis. "This car was very stable in our preliminary tests and I think all of the drivers competing this weekend are looking forward to this new concept. Drafting will obviously play a more definitive role with the new design, so people will be seeing different things with this car."

The winner of Sunday's 50-lapper will take home more than $20,000. A two-hour practice session is scheduled for 2 p.m. MST on Friday while practice and qualifying are scheduled for Saturday.

Among former winners of the "Copper World Classic" include NASCAR Nextel Cup veterans Ken Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Mike Bliss and defending series titlist Tony Stewart, in addition to Leffler.

The new generation pavement Silver Crown car was designed in an effort to compete at more tracks, including those in excess of a mile. A nose, sidepods and rear attenuator have been added for safety measures and can give more room for sponsor identification. The Silver Crown Series, originally formed for dirt Championship cars, was created in 1971. The first pavement race came in 1975 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and a schedule consisting of multiple pavement races first came in 1987.

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Series USAC
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Ken Schrader , Dave Darland , Dave Steele , Brian Tyler , Bud Kaeding , Mike Bliss , Carl Edwards , Tim Barber , Aaron Pierce , Wayne Reutimann , Rodney Weesner , Bryn Gohn