Kentucky Open Test May Help Teams Win

SPARTA, Ky. -- For several Indy Racing Northern Light Series teams and drivers participating in the Open Test on July 1-2 at Kentucky Speedway, the test means much more than getting acquainted with a new track.

For Team Cheever and driver Eddie Cheever Jr., Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and driver Robbie Buhl, and Pennzoil Panther Racing, the test at the 1.5-mile oval could give them an advantage in the chase for the 2000 Northern Light Cup.

All three teams are in the top 10 of the Northern Light Cup point standings with three races to go, and only 43 points separate Team Cheever, which is leading with 176 points, and eighth-place Team Purex, which has 133 points. Panther Racing in fourth with 156.

The Northern Light Series will make its Kentucky Speedway racing debut Aug. 25-27 with The Belterra Resort Indy 300. The race is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 27.

Owen Snyder III, chief mechanic for Team Cheever, knows that with a maximum of 55 points available to a driver at each race, the point standings can change very quickly if a team is not prepared.

"It definitely puts a premium on being able to go down there (to Kentucky) and test before the race weekend," said Snyder. "You try to go with a very organized plan of changes and try to be very open-minded. "You make big changes on the first time down, then go back with a lot of data and put another game plan together for race weekend." Cheever provided the team with its first win of the season at the Radisson Indy 200 on June 18 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The win vaulted Cheever to the top of the point standings and was the first for the Nissan Infiniti engine in Northern Light Series competition.

Kentucky Speedway's 14-degree banking in the turns and 70-foot width will make it conducive to fast, side-by-side racing faster than 210 mph. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. reached 215.1 mph on the 1.5-mile oval on June 28 during the first day of a private test.

Bryan Reffner set the track record of 168.460 mph during NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series qualifying on June 16 during the inaugural event at the state-of-the-art facility.

"I don't think Kentucky is going to be any different than some of the other mile-and-a half tracks that we run with our setups," said John O'Gara, chief mechanic for Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "I've been down there and seen the track. It's a beautiful place. I think everything will come pretty easily there."

If O'Gara's opinion is accurate, Kentucky Speedway could produce another spectacular race like the last Indy Racing event on a 1.5-mile oval, the Casino Magic 500 on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway. Scott Sharp edged Robby McGehee by 59-thousands of a second in the closest finish in series history.

"On these mile-and-a-half tracks we look for an event like we had at Texas," Snyder said. "We had, I thought, some pretty scary side-by-side racing. That 's what the fans are out to see, just close, great racing with a half-dozen guys fighting for the lead."

There were also a series-record 31 lead changes in that event, which also boasted a series-record average speed of 169.182 mph. The excitement surrounding the first Open Test at Kentucky Speedway and the chase for the Northern Light Cup championship also should make The Belterra Resort Indy 300 an event to remember, Snyder said.

"It's exciting," Snyder said. "I think there again, it just shows the growth of the series. And I think the key is if we hit it, if we do everything right and get a big fan base for this first annual event, then it's only going to get bigger and bigger. It's going to snowball into just massive crowds, and it'll be an event, an event that people in Kentucky and Ohio and Indiana want to go to every year."

The Kentucky Speedway Open Test gets underway July 1 with Northern Light Series practice from 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. (EDT). On July 2, practice takes place from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with a driver autograph session following from 3:30-5 p.m.

The drivers and teams scheduled to take part are: Buzz Calkins (Bradley Motorsports), Buhl (Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), Tyce Carlson (Hubbard Racing), J.J. Yeley (Jonathan Byrd-McCormack Motorsports), Cheever (Team Cheever), Billy Boat (Team Pelfrey), Sarah Fisher (Walker Racing) and the Pennzoil Panther Racing team with Northern Light Series rookie Sam Hornish Jr. and driver Alex Barron.

Hornish and Barron are participating in lieu of Panther's full-time driver, Scott Goodyear. Panther and Goodyear announced June 29 that they would part company after the 2000 season. Goodyear will drive in The Belterra Resort Indy 300 for Panther Racing.

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