Originally created 05/15/04

NASCAR shakeup to affect IRL



INDIANAPOLIS -- The NASCAR schedule shakeup will cost the IndyCar series a race in Nazareth, Pa., the possible loss of one of its two races at Texas Motor Speedway and probably a change of dates at Phoenix International Raceway or other tracks.

NASCAR said Friday that the tracks in Rockingham, N.C., and Darlington, S.C., will lose a Nextel Cup race next season. Phoenix and Texas will get a second race weekend under the realignment. Also, International Speedway Corp., whose majority owner is the family of NASCAR chairman Brian France, plans to move the NASCAR Busch series and IRL events at Nazareth to other tracks.

"None of this was really surprising to us," IRL spokesman John Griffin said Friday. "Because of our relationship with ISC and NASCAR, we sort of have advance notice of shifts in dates or venues. We knew this was coming, and today it was made official."

The IRL this year had a race at Phoenix in March and is scheduled for races at Texas on June 12, at Nazareth on Aug. 29 and at Texas again on Oct. 17, the series' traditional season-ending event. Its 2005 schedule is expected to be announced in late July or early August.

"We've had discussions with ISC, with Phoenix, with Texas, about their schedules," Griffin said. "We're going to have further talks with them about it.

"ISC is committed to keeping all of the IRL events, or they've told us they're committed to keeping their IRL inventory, just realigning it to different venues that they own. ... I think there's probably a chance you're going to see a shift in some dates."

The IRL currently has a 16-race schedule, all on oval tracks. It plans to add at least four road courses, although not necessarily all at once.

LUCKY DRAW?: Actress Ashley Judd drew the 21st and 38th spots for her husband, Dario Franchitti, in Saturday's qualifications.

Asked if she thought it was a lucky draw, Judd said, "I'm not making any comments except to wish my husband good luck, but thank you very much."

It was a much better draw for Robby Gordon, whose second and seventh spots in the qualifying order should give him plenty of time to get from Indianapolis to Richmond, Va., for the NASCAR Chevy American Revolution 400 on Saturday night. Gordon, who also was entered in the NASCAR Busch series race at Richmond on Friday night, plans to fly to Charlotte, N.C., after the Indy 500 on May 30 and drive in the Coca-Cola 600.

The first driver eligible to qualify Saturday will be rookie Ed Carpenter. Penske teammates Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves drew the sixth and eighth spots in the qualifying order, and defending IRL champion Scott Dixon drew the 32nd.

"Pole day will be a bit easier for me this year since I now know what to expect," said Dixon, who started fourth and finished 17th as a rookie last year. "It's a shame we didn't get to run a few more qualifying simulations today because of the rain, but we've done a lot of work this week and feel pretty positive about qualifying."

FAST FISHER: Rain ended Indianapolis 500 practice Friday four minutes after the track opened.

Only four drivers completed laps, with Sarah Fisher the fastest at 212.616 mph on the second of her five laps. A.J. Foyt IV took two laps, with a top speed of 193.689, Bruno Junqueira went 129.099 on his only lap and Buddy Rice went 104.395 on his only trip around the 2 1/2 -mile track.

"We've gained about a mile an hour a day. I just we wish had more time on the track to get more out of it," said Fisher, seeking her fifth start in the 500.

Fisher drew the 29th qualifying spot for her backup car and the 48th spot for her primary car.

"You can't have too many days for practice," she said. "Having the rain come into play, it disappoints me. But if I were going to be negative about it, I'd never be happy."

FINNISH LINE: Former driver Tero Palmroth of Finland, who raced at Indianapolis in 1988-91, returned to the Speedway on Friday for the first time since 1997.

"I came here for about a week and just didn't like the atmosphere," he said. "The CART guys were gone and it was very depressing here. I haven't been back since."

Palmroth, whose best finish at Indy was 12th in 1990, said he returned this year because he is working with several young drivers in Finland and would like to bring them to Indianapolis to race.

"Of course, they're all interested in Formula One, but not everybody can go to Formula One," he said.

SCHWITZER CANDIDATES: The Indiana Section of the Society of Automotive Engineers announced the six candidates for the annual Louis Schwitzer Award.

They are the Dallara IR4 chassis, the Honda HI4R-A engine, the Panoz G Force GF09B chassis, the Toyota RV8I engine, the Chevrolet IRL engine and the 2004 Delphi IRL Safety Truck.

The winner, to be announced on May 21, will receive a $5,000 check and a plaque.

Last year's winner was the Dallara IR3 chassis.