IRL Battle Brewing In Kentucky

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SPARTA, Ky. -- As Eddie Cheever Jr. has practiced for Sunday’s inaugural Belterra Resort Indy 300 at the brand-new Kentucky Speedway he has tried to learn the "nuances" of the track.

"Nuances," Cheever told reporters Thursday during the race’s media day, "are something you find when you go over the track that scares the s*** out of you."

Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. EST the Indy Racing Northern Light Series breaks in the $185-million speedway in Sparta, Ky., a city of less than 200 in the rolling hills of the Ohio River valley 40 miles southwest of Cincinnati.

With the IRL season nearing its end drivers expect a hard-fought race on the track’s first open-wheel contest.

"This is a very tough track," Cheever said. "A lot of the mile and a-half ovals we go to ... there’s not much technical effort. This place is different.

"This place is difficult. There are some nuances in (turns) 1 and 2 and another one in 3. It’s going to be a very strategic race."

Nineteen-year-old rookie Sarah Fisher, currently 22nd in the point standings with 70 points, compared Kentucky Speedway to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Al Unser Jr. captured his first IRL victory in April.

"They have about the same banking, only this track has a little bit more grip," she said. "It’s going to be easier to run two wide here than it would be at Vegas, and with the banking I think you’re going to see great racing."

The youngest driver to ever pass the Indy Racing League Rookie test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Fisher posted the fastest lap at Kentucky Speedway (218.517 mph) during open testing last month.

But the Commercial Point, Ohio, native who got her start racing midgets when she was just five years old and eventually graduated to street cars, is hoping for her first top-10 finish Sunday.

"We haven’t been there yet," said Fisher, who races for Walker Racing. "We have to finish; we’ve got to get points. It does not matter what it takes."

Fisher said she has matured on the circuit and believes she’s close to a breakout race and a high finish.

"Definitely patience is what I’ve learned this year," she said. "Midgets and sprint cars took a lot of aggression, just throw it into any spot that’s open. But you have to be more patient and look for your spots."

Roberto Guerrero, making his first start of the year for Team Coulson, expects the track to produce high speeds despite its lack of banking.

"Texas, Charlotte, Atlanta, they have 24 degree (turns)," Guerrero said as he took his first drive on the speedway Thursday in a pace car. "This one has 14 (degrees) and Las Vegas has 12 (degrees).

"But the people who have tested here tell me there is a lot of grip on the track, which kind of makes up for the lack of banking. So it should still be very fast."

Cheever said the tight points battle and the amount of testing teams have taken part in at the track should add up to a competitive race.

"It’s going to be competitive out there Sunday," Cheever said. "With the championship being as close at it is a lot of teams have to have their first win before the year is over, a lot of teams have to collect as many points as they can. So they are going to be running hard and trying to propel themselves to the championship."

With just one race to go in the IRL season -- Oct. 15 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway -- Cheever (185 points) is second in the point standings to Buddy Lazier (208). Others in the championship hunt include Scott Goodyear (175), Scott Sharp, (173), Eliseo Salazar (173) and Al Unser Jr. (170).

All will be in the field at the Belterra 300, a race named for a new riverboat casino scheduled to open next month in nearby Vevay, Ind.

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