Fourth Turn

Dario Franchitti?s race and championship run Sunday in Chicago had the built in quality of ?Good News-Bad News.? The 2007 Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion celebrated his double victories at Chicagoland Speedway before what might have been a record open wheel crowd for the track. But we may have seen him in his final ICS event, as his pending move to NASCAR may become Bad News for the IRL.

Rumors of his soon-to-be-announced move to the Ganassi NASCAR team, yet in 2007 to give him a head start for next year, didn?t become a distraction for the mild-mannered Scot with the Hollywood wife. But he and the IRL, who will likely also lose poster-boy Sam Hornish Jr. to NASCAR, have got to be worried about that turn of events.

If those plans materialize, the Indy 500 loses its defending champion as does the series. And in a world that puts ?NASCAR? and ?auto racing? in synonymous terms, that maybe more than just Bad News.

Great story lines, centered on the tight points championship between Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, created countless media copy in the week leading up to the event. And despite the Chicago Bears NFL opener on local TV and a major PGA golf tournament featuring Tiger Woods nearby, the throng roared as one when Dario passed Dixon in the final turn for the win. This was entertainment NASCAR style, and without a contrived ?playoff? system to create interest.

But open wheel may face a crisis if their ?faces?, their identifiable drivers, continue to migrate south. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart left long ago, others have followed, and now the latest ?story? is about to leave. Marco Andretti may be headed for Europe in awhile- and it leaves one to wonder who might be next.

A highly successful event like the PEAK Indy 300 was a positive way to end a season for the IRL. But with the ranks of recognizable drivers thinning, something needs to be done to keep the open wheel talent ?Back Home?? in Indiana and Milwaukee and Chicago and Mid Ohio and?

IRL Notes: Marco Andretti was released from a local hospital after a CAT scan proved negative following his hard crash on lap 35. He had complained of neck pain after spending quite awhile in his wrecked machine? Saturday?s pole run was Dario Franchitti?s third this season?AJ Foyt IV worked with a new spotter this weekend as his usual ?eyes,? PJ Chesson, ran the race in a second Roth Racing entry?Needing as much practice time as possible, rookie Milka Duno missed much of Saturday?s first session because the Citgo team?s spotter wasn?t in the spotter?s stand. Duno also switched to the team?s backup car for the race?Six different drivers had won the 16 IndyCar Series races this season coming into the Chicago finale?Regardless of where he finished in the PEAK Indy 300, Darren Manning will have given the Foyt team its best season points finish since 2002 when Airton Dare placed ninth for Foyt. After the Chicago event Manning was scheduled to fly home to England to team with regular driver Warren Hughes in the Embassy Racing Judd in the Le Mans Series six-hour LMP2 race at Silverstone, a circuit that he calls his home track?Milwaukee Mile PR Director Jim Tretow, in Chicago as a pit reporter for Speed Channel?s telecast of Saturday?s ARCA race, assured one and all that the MM IRL date will continue to be the first weekend after the Indianapolis 500 at least through 2009. Recent, confusing stories about Texas Speedway?s contract with the IRL led some to believe that a date change was imminent. Not so says Tretow, at least for now.

IPS Notes: The Indy Pro Series Chicagoland 100 race will be shown on ESPN2 at 5:00pm on Thursday, September 13th. Watch it for the close finish as well as the upside-down ride taken by 2005 IPS champion Wade Cunningham. The wild ride he took through Turn 3 is worth a viewing to remind fans of the safety built into the latest generation of open-wheel racecars?Travis Gregg replaced rookie IPS driver Ryan Justice in the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Lucas Oil entry, only to be caught up in the Cunningham crash?Logan Gomez? IPS win was his first in the series. His margin of victory, .0005 sec., was the closest finish in the six season history of the series champion Alex Lloyd finished second to Gomez and noted that he will have an announcement in a few weeks about his Indy Car plans for next season. Speculation is that he will fill a seat in a third Target Chip Ganassi car?At a Saturday press conference, Playa Del Racing announced a multi-year contract with driver Al Unser III and sponsor Ethos for EARTH. Unser will begin in the Indy Pro Series in 2008 and then, ? take my career to the next level with the team.?

ARCA Notes: Rookie stock car driver Colin Braun finished third in Saturday?s ARCA 200 at Chicagoland driving a Roush Fenway Ford. Braun, who finished ninth in his inaugural run at Gateway last week, posted top-five lap times during earlier testing at Chicago. At just 18-yers of age, Braun is an accomplished road racer who finished second in class at Le Mans and eleventh in the Grand American Prototypes at Daytona. He is in a Roush development program with plans to move to NASCAR in 2008. Braun is from Texas but has family in the Oconomowoc, WI area, including an uncle who spots for him at the Daytona Rolex 24 hour race?Just as in the IRL race Sunday, three female drivers ran in the ARCA event. Connecticut?s Michelle Theriault and Gabi DiCarlo from Phoenix joined Erin Crocker in the 40-car field.

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