Indy Racing League'S Best And Brightest Ready To Battle For "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" Crown
A two-time Kentucky Speedway champion, the 2001 Indy Racing League champion, and the fastest woman in Indy racing history will join "Spiderman," "The Professor," and 20 other Indy Racing League stars in a power-packed field for the August 11 "Belterra Casino Indy 300" at Kentucky Speedway.
The 25-car field will be tied for the third largest of the 2002 IRL season. Early IRL test speeds have reached 224 mph, placing the current Kentucky average race speed record of 174.910 mph in jeopardy.
The IRL welcomed Marlboro Team Penske to its full-time ranks this season and drivers Helio Castroneves, the two-time Indy 500 champion known as "Spiderman," and teammate Gil de Ferran, a two-time CART Series champion nicknamed "The Professor" because of his calculated approach to racing, have helped to make the 2002 season one of the most competitive and exciting to date.
"I won races in 1999, 2000 and 2001," IRL veteran driver Greg Ray of A.J. Foyt Racing said. "Maybe in 1999 there were five guys that could win on any given weekend. Now, literally, one of 15 drivers could win," he said. "In motorsports, a lot of times people are just throwing darts to see how close they can get to the bullseye. That's really not the case here. Eveybody's hitting the bullseye, it's how close to the center of the bullseye you can get. It's just very, very competitive."
The Indy Racing League enters the home stretch of the 2002 campaign as only four races, including "The Belterra Casino Resort 300," remain on the schedule. De Ferran leads the point standings, holding a 12-point advantage over Castroneves as both prepare to make their first competitive appearances at Kentucky Speedway. De Ferran drove to his first career IRL victory at Pikes Peak and has nine top-five finishes in 11 starts. In addition to Indianapolis, Castroneves drove to his first win of 2002 at Phoenix.
Defending IRL Champion Sam Hornish, Jr., third at Kentucky Speedway last season, enters the week third in the series standings and 18 points off de Ferran's pace. Hornish, Jr., owns wins at Miami, Fontana and Richmond and has finished outside the top three only four times in 11 starts.
Hollywood Mo Nunn prodigy Felipe Giaffone also is in striking distance of de Ferran, but has the most ground to make up as he enters "The Belterra Casino 300" down 47 points.
Other series winners include 2002 Indy 500 Rookies-of-the-Year Tomas Scheckter, who won at Michigan on July 28 with Red Bull Cheever Infiniti Racing, and Alex Barron, who captured his win just one week before at Nashville. Second-year driver Airton Dare took A.J. Foyt Racing to Victory Circle in Kansas for his first career victory and league veterans Scott Sharp (Nazareth) and Jeff Ward (Texas) also have logged wins this season.
The 21-year-old Sarah Fisher, third in 2000 at Kentucky, and veteran Scott Sharpe, the 2001 pole winner at Kentucky, also are among the "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" combatants.
Fisher comes to Kentucky as the newest addition to the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing roster and hopes to improve upon teammate Robbie Buhl's ninth place performance of a year ago. Buhl battled with two-time Kentucky Speedway champion Buddy Lazier for the lead through the final 11 laps of the race before he ran low on racing luck as his car ran out of fuel.
"The Belterra Casino Indy 300" will mark Fisher's seventh start with her new team. She made her impact felt early on in her first team start in Indianapolis when became the fastest woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average of 229.439 mph. She most recently battled for the lead in the closing laps of the Michigan 400 and finished a respectable ninth, good for her second top-10 finish of the season. She finished fourth at Nazareth earlier this season while substituting for the then injured Buhl.
Rounding out the field is Lazier. The 2000 IRL Champ and 2001 runner-up looks to start a strong close run to the 2002 season in "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" after driving to just four top-10 finishes in 12 starts this season.
"We've really had a disappointing season to this point, and we want to end this season on as strong a note as we can," Lazier said. "We look forward to going back to Kentucky because we've had a lot of success. Kentucky is a special race track, it's a unique race track and it's always been a real player for me in terms of my points standings at the end of the season."
~ Kentucky Speedway ~