CHAMP CARS Vasser nears tying starts streak



It's not an accomplishment of a driver's tremendous skill, but, of his longevity.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) -- Twice in the last couple of years, Jimmy Vasser was sitting in his race car when he suddenly felt his lungs, heart and mind start racing.
Now he knows what claustrophobia feels like.
"One time it lasted about 10 seconds and as soon as I undid my belt and loosened up my shoulders I was OK. It was weird being pinned down and not being able to move," Vasser said. "I thought maybe this is another sign that the days are coming where I don't care to be sitting in here anymore."
Vasser doesn't plan on that happening for at least another 18 months. Until then, he'll keep driving -- right into history.
The streak
Vasser is set to tie Al Unser Jr.'s streak of 192 consecutive starts in Champ Car open-wheel racing Sunday at the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver. He could break the mark Aug. 29 in Montreal.
"It's not an accomplishment of tremendous skill; it's just longevity," Vasser said. "It's an awful lot of races consecutively, but it doesn't feel like that. I still get antsy with anticipation the same way I always did."
Vasser began his streak at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 1993. Along the way, he won a series championship in 1996, finished runner-up in 1998, won the fastest race in Champ Car history in 2002 at the California Speedway (197.995 mph) and captured 10 checkered flags, eight poles and 31 podium finishes.
He's one of seven drivers to earn more than $11 million in his Champ Car career. Now in his 13th year, Vasser ranks in the top 20 in almost every statistical category and also helped mold the careers Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya.
If he can start two more races, he'll cherish that mark the most because it represents consistency and durability, Vasser said.
"It's a great milestone and I'm very proud of it," Vasser said.
It means he hasn't been injured in crashes or seen his skills slip enough to lose a ride.
"I guess it also means I've been around a long time," Vasser said.
At 38, Vasser is the elder statesman on the Champ Car circuit, something he still finds hard to fathom.
"Well, it just happens," he said. "I still feel like I'm the young punk in the field and it just seems like it kind of happens overnight where you go from being one of the younger guys to being one of the older, now the oldest."
He can feel the tug of retirement when he sees the rest of the field getting younger and younger, too.
"I'm certainly not washed up or anything like that, but I'm in the fourth quarter of the game," he said.
When the clock runs out, he won't get out of the game altogether. He'll just slide over into the business side of things as a full-time owner. He co-owns Indianapolis-based PKV Racing along with Kevin Kalkhoven and Dan Pettit, founded 19 months ago.

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