Around The Bend

Wow, what a weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was off, however that didn?t stop the racing. It was a full docket as the IndyCar Series was in Japan, the Champ Car finale was in fashionable Southern California, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series was in Mexico City along with their road racing cousins-the Grand Am Series. Also, the American LeMans Series joined the Champ Car Series in Long Beach. Obviously, Danica Patrick was THE story. The Drudge Report, the New York Times and others all included the petite one in their story lines. It?s good to see IndyCar reunification which is less than a month into their season already reaping rewards.

Add Graham Rahal who became the youngest winner of a major open-wheel racing event at 19 years, 93 days at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago and Danica together and you?ve emboldened two stars for stardom. Danica had the hype, but the win propels her to even higher horizons. One cannot ignore that one component that connects the two are their nationality, American. Add Marco Andretti you have an American foundation of stars that the IndyCar Series needs to build upon. There should be quite an interesting buzz this weekend at the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway.

The Danica win is just what the IndyCar Series needed, ?I was asked at the Motorsports Marketing Summit if I could ask for one thing this year what would it be and the quote was ?Danica Patrick in Victory Circle,?? said Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division for the IndyCar Series. ?It?s great for Danica and the league,? added Indy Racing League founder and IndyCar Series CEO Tony George said after watching Patrick prevail on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval. ?Everybody has been waiting for this day to arrive and it finally has. A lot of credit is due to that team and to Danica as a driver for getting to this position.?

The first two-thirds of the race at Motegi wasn?t the most entertaining. However seeing Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves and Patrick, gamble with their fuel and watch the leaders fight it out and hope for a late-race yellow which I?m glad never came was great. Kudos to ESPN analyst Scott Goodyear for explaining how downforce on an IndyCar can spoil fuel mileage. Next race, look for Vision Racing to trim out Carpenters car a bit more.

The Kansas race will be used by the teams as a final tune-up for the month of May and the Indianapolis 500. Look for Luczo Dragon Racing to throw their hat in the ring this weekend. They?re making their 2008 debut at the Kansas Speedway. Luczo Dragon finished fifth in last year?s Indy 500 with Ryan Briscoe. A team loosely affiliated with Team Penske, Tomas Scheckter is the driver. Scheckter has four top-10 finishes at Kansas in six starts.

The NASCAR Sprint Car Series is in Talladega this weekend. This race is usually exciting as everyone waits for the ?big-one.? However the past several races at restrictor tracks have been more restrained. So maybe this race may look like a junk yard at the end. Chevrolet should be strong as a Chevy driver has won 17 of the last 18 Sprint Cup races at ?Dega and the last four consecutive races.

The entertaining NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will share the Kansas Speedway with the IndyCar Series this weekend. One driver who will miss his first truck start of the year is Kyle Busch. The point leader will not drive the #51 Miccosukee Resorts Toyota.

Four drivers are within 69 points of Busch, so look for a new leader atop the points. Georgia native Shane Sieg, 25, will take the wheel of the #51 for the O?Reilly Auto Parts 250. The team hopes it will allow them to retain the owner standings lead. Busch is expected to return May 16 at Lowe?s Motor Speedway. Sieg has competed in 27 races since 2003 with a best finish of eighth at The Milwaukee Mile. He drove Ballew?s #15 truck three times last season, finishing 10th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

?With Kyle?s schedule at Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend, there was no way he could make the race in Kansas,? Ballew said. ?We looked at all the scenarios but it just wasn?t feasible. Shane has driven for us before and is familiar with the equipment. ?We hope to leave Kansas still leading the owners? points and know Kyle can make up some ground in the drivers? points when we race at Lowe?s.

Erik Darnell, driver of the #99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150, is the defending race winner at the Kansas Speedway. The Beach Park, Illinois native won his first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race last year at the flat mile-and-a-half track. Darnell is excited about coming back. ?I?m looking forward to going back to Kansas. Obviously, we had a pretty good run there last year. The truck we?re bringing back this year is not going to be the same one but it is one that we?ve run a little bit this year and it has run pretty well. I think everything so far is working out really well with crew chief Matt Puccia and all the guys on our team. We?ve got a great team put together. Our Northern Tool + Equipment Ford has been fast pretty much everywhere we?ve been so far this year. I know it?s tough to go back to a race track and repeat, but we?re definitely looking to try and do that.?

In his third year with Roush-Fenway, Darnell is also tutoring other drivers in the organization. ?I was there three weeks ago helping out Ricky Stenhouse Jr., our development driver, with an ARCA car. So I got a couple of laps around that place already this year, which is good. Any seat time that you can get helps. So, hopefully, that will help me out when I go back there this week. Then I was invited to help the speedway with their media day and we went go-karting. Colin Braun and I went out to a go-kart track out there and did a little bit of media stuff. I had a good time.?

Is there something about Kansas that Darnell likes? Or does he have a strategy to win there? ?I don?t think there is any kind of strategy, it?s just getting your vehicle working well and handling well. Last year it worked out very well for us with pit strategy and the way things played out. We actually had to start in the back because we made an unapproved change after qualifying and we pitted 10 laps in for fuel. That allowed us to cycle through the front, and get up to the front during green-flag pit stops. Everything worked out real well last year. I don?t think there is any real combination to get a win there. It?s just like any other track, you?ve just got to get your vehicle handing well and get up front. Kansas is a fairly easy track to drive. It?s just a combination of getting everything right.?

What makes it easy for Darnell? ?It?s not like your typical mile-and-a-half tracks. It?s not a Texas or Atlanta or Las Vegas. It?s not real high banked, so it?s not as fast as those places. But the corners are wide, sweeping and smooth. As you get going during the race, the groove moves up. If you?re not handling well on the bottom, you can go up to the middle or top of the track. That makes it good from the driver?s standpoint because you can move around a little bit. It makes it fun to drive, but it?s relatively easy place to get around.? But, can he repeat? ?Yes, the basic set-up and everything is going to be the same. We?re probably going to be on the gas a little bit more. We might have a little bit more corner speed this year with the smaller spacer, but I don?t think it will change it too much.?

On the USAC side of things, the 18th running of the ?Rich Vogler Classic? is re-scheduled for this Sunday afternoon (April 27) at the Winchester (Ind.) Speedway after persistent showers forced Sunday?s postponement of the race honoring the memory of USAC?s winningest driver of all time.

Shane Cottle of Kokomo, Ind. kicked off the 2008 USAC National Sprint Car season with a thrilling victory in Friday night’s 30-lap race at the Gas City I-69 Speedway. Driving the Contos Racing Chalk/Frampton, Cottle took the lead from Brad Sweet on lap 18 and led the rest of the way to beat Dustin Morgan, Sweet, Levi Jones and Dave Darland, who came from the last row to take fifth.

Rains forced cancellation of Saturday night?s scheduled return to Gas City?s 1/4-mile dirt oval. Brady Bacon was Friday’s fastest qualifier. Blake Fitzpatrick won the qualifying race and heats went to Scotty Weir, Jon Stanbrough, Darren Hagen and Jerry Coons Jr. Cottle won the semi. Thomas Meseraull flipped on lap 13 of the feature but escaped injury. Cottle leads the series standings going into Sunday?s return to the 1/2-mile paved Winchester oval.

Hit tip to Illiana Speedway and their upgrade of the facilities. Apparently the rumors of the demise of Illiana Speedway in Schereville were greatly exaggerated. Thanks to columnist John Atlas to the good news.

A brand-new pilot program for USAC Regional Pavement Sprint Car competition debuts May 28 at the Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. The three-race slate includes races at Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway June 18 and back at Illiana on August 6.

Sporting the same rules as USAC?s National Sprint Car Series with 410 c.i. engines, the series is designed to develop sprint car racing talent much the same as the successful Regional Midget Series has done for the sport of USAC National Midget racing.

USAC has had tremendous success with its Regional Midget program and this step toward a similar structure with sprint cars is a natural progression. These races will be held under the auspices of DK Promotions, whose director, Don Kenyon, has been instrumental in helping build this concept from the very start. This concept is expected to create a great opportunity for aspiring drivers to get valuable seat time at tracks which will offer experience toward reaching the next level of their careers.

The feature events are expected to be 30 laps in distance and the races at Illiana Motor Speedway will be the first for USAC at that venue since Bobby East won a Midget race in 2001. Jason McCord won USAC?s last Sprint race at Illiana, also in 2001.

It happens just once a year, and on Sunday, May 4th, race fans and the general public are invited to drive their personal cars around The Milwaukee Mile during the speedway?s 6th Annual ?Drive The Mile? event.

From 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 4th, minivans, mopeds, work trucks, classic cars and motorcycles will all be allowed to take laps around America?s Legendary Oval. Drivers must be insured and 18 years of age, passengers of any age ride free.

Admission to participate in ?Drive The Mile? is $15 plus two non-perishables for the Hunger Task Force of Wisconsin. To help Milwaukee families in need at this event, the Hunger Task Force is asking for peanut butter and canned fruit to replenish their stock of food items.

Click on for more details. To learn more about the Hunger Task Force, please visit

NASCAR media services, IndyCar Media, Ford Racing and USAC contributed to this article

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