MOTOR SPORTS ROUNDUP | News and notes
Big names in IRL testing: Testing results in any series are tough to interpret, with teams and drivers concentrating on different aspects of performance besides pure speed. Some teams work on aerodynamics, some on race setups, some on qualifying trim. But after five days of preseason testing by IRL IndyCar Series competitors at 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway as well as the 2.21-mile road course and the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the cream rose to the top. Five drivers were among the top seven on each day of testing, no matter the track configuration, and they represent three Indianapolis 500 wins and the last five series championships. That includes Marlboro Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, a two-time Indy winner, and 2001 and 2002 series champion Sam Hornish Jr., Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon, the 2003 series champ, and reigning Indy winner and series champion Dan Wheldon and Andretti Green Racing driver and 2004 champion Tony Kanaan. A lot of attention was on Wheldon, who left Andretti Green at the end of 2005 to join the Ganassi team that has struggled since Dixon's title. "Target Chip Ganassi Racing has won championships, and they've won all the big races," Wheldon said. "They should be proud to be on top [of the speed charts]," said Wheldon, who like Castroneves led the time sheets twice during testing. Wheldon understands that testing well doesn't always translate into good racing. He dominated preseason testing last year and continued his top form throughout the 2005 season. But new teammate Dixon was the most consistent driver in testing in 2004 and was never a factor in the championship. In contrast, Buddy Rice had a breakout season in 2004, but didn't crack the top 10 in testing. "Yeah, you feel good, but it's just a test," Wheldon said. "It means nothing, really. But I think we're in OK shape. We'll have to wait and see. We're obviously fast. It's going to be tough this year. It's going to be a fight."
Video tour: Kurt Busch is back in Las Vegas, his hometown, this week to take part in Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrylser 400. But Las Vegas Motor Speedway will certainly not be his only stop -- and he won't be alone. Busch, who switched from Roush Racing to Penske Racing South over the winter, is being followed closely on his visit home by an ESPN film crew. "It won't be what you might think," ESPN feature producer Jeremy Louwerse said. "You probably won't see a single clip of The Strip or what Las Vegas is most famous for. Our intent is to go back and take a look at Kurt's roots -- the neighborhood where the 2004 NASCAR champ grew up, his high school, his favorite fast food joint -- all the local color he experienced growing up in Las Vegas before making it big time in racing." The feature is set to first air on Friday morning's ESPN2 program, Cold Pizza. The two-hour, weekday morning show, hosted by Jay Crawford and Dan Jacobson, is broadcast live from New York City.
Kahne at home: Kasey Kahne is among the points leaders, but he still considers Enumclaw, Wash., home. "That's where I'm from, and at some point, hopefully, I'll have a cabin or something back there," he said. "That's something I think I'll always enjoy, going back to Enumclaw where I grew up. There's no better place to grow up than that town." And there's no better place for Kahne right now than fourth in the points standings. That's a 30-place improvement from where he stood after two races last season. "It feels good," he said. "I'm excited about the way we've started out the season. We've had some good races. We haven't made any mistakes yet. We've been doing everything the way we've tested through the off-season. It's very early in the season, but it's definitely our best start yet."
Pit stops: Only two races into the season, there already is speculation about whether Kevin Harvick will remain with Richard Childress Racing next year. Harvick, who runs Busch and Craftsman Truck teams with Kevin Harvick Inc., might become a driver and, possibly, an owner for Toyota next season. Childress wants Harvick back but has set an April deadline for the driver to decide his future ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished 37th and 35th in his past two outings in Las Vegas, so he's hoping his luck changes Sunday. "I know if we can get through this race, we'll be looking pretty good," he said. "We've won at eight of the next nine tracks on the schedule after Vegas." ... Roush Racing drivers have won five of the eight races contested at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Mark Martin won in 1998, and the team followed that effort with wins by former Roush driver Jeff Burton and two by Kenseth.
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