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IndyCar Notes: NHMS Moves, Hornish Won’t

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010

There will be no Sudden moves as Sam Hornish Jr. will remain in NASCAR. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Return of the IZOD IndyCar Series to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011 after a 13-year absence has been pushed back two weeks to accommodate changes in the track’s NASCAR schedule.

Originally booked for July 31, IndyCar now will compete on the 1.058-mile oval in Loudon, N.H., on Aug. 14, 2011.

“Because of the date changes with our NASCAR weekends, we had to move this much-anticipated event from its originally announced date to Aug. 14,” Jerry Gappens, the track’s executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement on Wednesday. “With this change, it gives fans from New England, Canada and across the country three consecutive months of major racing events. This will be a tremendous boost to the economic benefit the speedway provides and increase tourism to our great state.”

NHMS will retain both of its coveted Sprint Cup dates in 2011, although its traditional June race will be run on July 17. The track’s second Cup date in September traditionally has served as the kickoff to NASCAR’s 10-race/12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. That spot will be filled by Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., next season, with NHMS’ fall race to be run on Sept. 25 as part of the Chase.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which opened in 1993, had served as the Chase’s leadoff event since the format’s inception in 2004.

The track hosted Indy Racing League events from 1996-1998 – won by Scott Sharp, Robbie Buhl and Tony Stewart, respectively – before dwindling attendance pushed the race off the schedule. Gappens said the switch was made with the cooperation of Randy Bernard, the IRL’s first-year chief executive officer.

“It creates some travel and logistical challenges for their group,” Gappens said, “but it further demonstrates their commitment to bringing open-wheel racing back to New England.”

Sudden Sam staying in NASCAR: Team-owner Roger Penske has doused speculation that three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. might be headed back to open-wheel from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

Hornish, who is winless in 94 Cup starts dating to 2007, is losing primary sponsorship from Mobil 1 on his No. 77 Dodge Charger at season’s end. But Penske, for whom Hornish won the Indianapolis 500 in 2006, is not panicking.

“We’ve said publicly that we want to run Sam next year (in NASCAR); he’s not going back to open-wheel racing,” Penske said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “He’s going to be in NASCAR racing. It’s a matter of us getting the sponsorship stuff together. As you know, budgets are tight. We’ve got a number of opportunities out there that we’re working on. That’s a decision that we’ll make as we get toward the end of the season and we’ll make it transparent to everyone.”

Hornish, a 31-year-old native of Defiance, Ohio, emerged as “Poster Boy” for the IndyCar Series after winning back-to-back driving titles for Pennzoil Panther Racing in 2001-02. He bagged his third title for Marlboro Team Penske in 2006, exiting the series with 19 wins in 116 starts. Hornish qualified on-pole for 10 IndyCar races, and won six of those.

No IndyCar for Dodge: Chrysler Group and its Dodge brand will not be expanding their motorsports involvement as an IndyCar engine-supplier when the series introduces its new package in 2012.

“We’ve looked into it…and I’m intrigued,” Ralph Gilles, president/CEO of Dodge, said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “They’re a very unique (fan) base…but it’s a couple of years out. I’m focused on NASCAR.”

Gilles acknowledged that Honda looms as a formidable competitor, as it has been IndyCar’s sole engine supplier since 2006. American Honda Motor Co. emerged last weekend as the first manufacturer to commit to the series’ new package for 2012. Honda Performance Development will continue to provide the Honda Indy V-8 engine to all competitors during the 2011 season, after which a 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 power plant designed by HPD will debut.

IndyCar Series officials announced on June 2 that the 2012 platform will allow manufacturers to produce engines with a maximum of six cylinders and maximum displacement of 2.4-cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the series competes and will be turbocharged to allow for flexibility.

Roger Penske, the most successful team-owner in domestic open-wheel history, fields three-driver teams in both IndyCar and Sprint Cup. “We’re always looking for other investments,” said Penske, who fields the only factory-backed Dodges in Cup. “But Ralph has to decide.”

Drivers testing at Infineon: Fourteen drivers are scheduled to test on Friday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., in preparation for the Aug. 22 Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Spectators are welcome to watch from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for free from the main grandstand.

Scheduled to be on the 2.2-mile track: Points-leader Will Power of Team Penske; former two-time series champions Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing; Panther Racing’s Dan Wheldon, the 2005 series champion;

Also, Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing; Francesco Dracone, who made his series debut with Conquest Racing with a 22nd-place at Mid-Ohio; Milka Duno of Dale Coyne Racing; Raphael Matos of de Ferran Dragon Racing, a former winner at Infineon in Firestone Indy Lights; Justin Wilson and J.R. Hildebrand of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the latter a former Firestone Indy Lights winner at Infineon; Alex Tagliani of FAZZT Race Team, who led a field-high 30 laps at Mid-Ohio and finished a season-high fourth and Mario Moraes, Takuma Sato and E.J. Viso of KV Racing Technology.

Franchitti, who trails Power by 41 points for the driver’s championship, is the defending event winner via a flag-to-flag 75-lap run last summer.

Entries expand for Chicagoland: For the second time in three races, the sanctioning Indy Racing League has amended its rulebook to allow for a larger starting field.

Twenty-nine cars are expected at Chicagoland Speedway – most outside of the 33 for the Indianapolis 500 – to be entered for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 on Aug. 28 on the 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Ill.

Rule 8.1(E)(5)(f) caps the starting field at 28 cars for races other than Indianapolis, Brazil, Toronto and Mid-Ohio based upon pit lane space. The rule also was amended for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance on Aug. 8 to allow for a 27th entry.

In addition to the 24 full-season entries, expected to join the initial practice session at 9:15 a.m. (CDT) Aug. 27 are Davey Hamilton in the No. 21 HP de Ferran Dragon Racing Dallara/Honda, Graham Rahal in the No. 02 Quick Trim Newman/Haas Racing entry, Sarah Fisher in the No. 67 Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Racing, Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car for Panther/Vision Racing and Jay Howard in the No. 66 Service Central car for Sarah Fisher Racing.

Of note: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winners Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser will join Jeff Belskus, president/CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp., to unveil the logo for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Friday. The event in May 2011 will mark the 100th anniversary of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Rutherford will join Belskus at noon (EDT) at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum in Indianapolis, while Unser will participate from one of America’s premier automotive events, the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance. …

VERSUS will broadcast an IndyCar Series midseason show at 6 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday. … The Sept. 4 IndyCar race at Kentucky Speedway will be the 200th sanctioned by the IRL. The series’ first event was run on Jan. 27, 1996, at Walt Disney World Speedway in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the 100th was run on Aug. 29, 2004, at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2010
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