Home Sweet Homestead
February 22, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Just as the two-day test at Phoenix International Raceway did early this month, Friday’s and Saturday’s testing at Homestead will give fans their first look at a handful of drivers and will be a preview of early season action in the IRNLS, particularly the inaugural Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami on April 8.
Three drivers who skipped the Test in the West will turn in track time on the 1.5-mile oval in South Florida: Buzz Calkins, Eliseo Salazar and Jeff Ward.
Calkins was scheduled to participate in the Test in the West on Feb. 9 and 10, but an accident at Homestead a couple of days earlier landed him on crutches. During his private test at Homestead that week, Calkins turned in a 199.8 mph lap. Greg Ray also crashed in testing at Homestead, injuring his leg in the process.
Salazar and A.J. Foyt’s IRNLS team are testing for the first time in the offseason. Salazar will be carrying the legendary No. 14 when he hits the track.
"I feel honored to be driving that car this year," said Salazar, who finished fourth in the point standings in 2000 with Foyt.
Jeff Ward will also be putting miles under his belt for the first time this offseason.
Ward, who drove for Foyt in 2000, was in the unemployment line before being picked up by new team Heritage Motorsports.
Nine other drivers are scheduled to take part in the open test, with Galles Racing conducting a private test the two days after the open test.
As in Phoenix, Ray and 2000 IRNLS champion Buddy Lazier should be near the top of the speed charts this weekend. Ray had the third-fastest lap at Phoenix during the open test at 174.906 mph. Lazier was fifth fastest at 174.404 mph. Both have also spent part of their offseason at Homestead in preparation of that track’s debut on the IRNLS schedule on April 8.
Sam Hornish Jr. will attempt to continue his impressive testing –- he was second fastest at Phoenix -- performance at Homestead with his new Pennzoil Panther Racing crew.
Although he won’t be at the open test, Scott Sharp has put in plenty of time on Homestead’s flat oval. He likes the track and predicts speeds of more than 200 mph.
"With the rules package the IRL's really worked hard on, the cars race side-by-side, nose-to-tail, and you're going to see 200-mph laps around here with cars side by side and eight to 10 cars in a pack," said Sharp, who went 200.444 mph at Homestead in late January. "I think you're going to see a great race here.
"Miami is a great place to be, and this is a beautiful race track. I'm really impressed. I felt right at home on my first lap, going down the back straight with all the palm trees."
Open testing takes place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET Friday and Saturday. RacingOne will provide complete coverage of the two days of activities.