Inotebook:/I Stars Ready For IROC

IndyCar Series champions Sam Hornish Jr. and Scott Sharp know the chips will be stacked against them when they take to one of racing’s biggest stages this weekend.

The pair will participate in the first race of the 2006 Crown Royal International Race of Champions at the Daytona International Speedway – site of the Daytona 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event. Sharp will start on the front row with NASCAR veteran Mark Martin and drive the No. 08 Gold car. Hornish will start fourth in the No. 06 Day-Glo car.

“Being in an IROC car the same weekend as the Daytona 500, you know there are a lot of eyes watching you,” Hornish said. “You’re running against 11 of the best drivers out there -- all of them are champions in their own right -- so it’s a lot of fun. It’s pretty hard to go out there and win those races, but if you have a good run, you feel extra proud about it because you beat those drivers, especially the NASCAR guys.”

The 100-mile race, the first of four events throughout 2006, pits drivers from various racing disciplines against each other in identically prepared stock cars. Both Hornish and Sharp will be competing in the series for the third time in their careers and looking for the first win by an IRL driver since 2002.

"I am excited for my third full season of IROC racing,” Sharp said. “Daytona is always one of the most exciting races. We are racing against some pretty tough guys who certainly know exactly what they are doing in these kind of cars and conditions. It is exciting to be a part of it, and I'll certainly try to bring home a good result."

Hornish and Sharp each spent the week working with IROC test drivers Jim Sauter, Dave Marcis and David Donahue to get acclimated with the car. The key is mastering a form of drafting neither is accustomed to in Indy-style cars.

“The first time I ran at Daytona, I finished second to Tony Stewart,” Hornish said. “I basically pushed him through the pack and decided to take second because I didn’t think there was any way I could win. The next year, I was running second with a few laps to go, and I tried for the win. I tried to make a pass and no one would help me, so I went straight to the back. I don’t expect help from anyone this time.”

Hornish, though, may have another friend to help him this year besides his fellow IndyCar Series competitor. Penske NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is also competing in the event.

“I didn’t have any teammates the last two times, but now that I am with Team Penske, maybe with Newman in it I can get some help,” Hornish said. “I don’t go into anything without expecting to win. I’ll go out and push hard. Hopefully, I will be on top of my game and do well enough to win the whole thing.”

The first race of the International Race of Champions is scheduled for 6 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 17. It will be broadcast by Speed Channel.

Rookies Complete Test at Homestead
Bombardier Rookie of the Year candidates Marco Andretti and Paul Dana completed a successful two-day test at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Feb. 15.

IRL officials conducted the test in order to evaluate each rookie driver in traffic. Veteran driver Michael Andretti also participated in the test.

“It was a fun two days,” Marco Andretti said. “The purpose of our test was to give me some time running the No. 26 ArcaEx car in traffic, and we accomplished that. I got to run wheel-to-wheel with dad and then we ran some laps with Paul Dana, as well.”

The test marked the younger Andretti’s first laps in a multiple-car draft, but Michael Andretti said his son adapted very well.

“It was good to run with Marco and give him the experience of running side-by-side with another car, and he did a nice job in that situation,” Michael Andretti said. “It was good for me as well. I’m continuing to knock the rust off, but I’m very happy with my acclimation to the No. 1 Jim Beam/Vonage car. If we were to race tomorrow, I’d be ready to go.”

Marco Andretti said the experience will help him as he prepares for his rookie season in the IndyCar Series. He’ll return to the car March 2-6 for an IRL Open Test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I’m telling you, when you run with a third car it’s an entirely different ballgame,” he said. “Running in someone’s draft is one thing, but the third car really makes a difference regarding how your setup works. I definitely learned a lot.”

Wheldon Earns Votes for Driver of the Year
2005 IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon finished second in final voting for the Speed Driver of the Year award.

Wheldon, who became the first IndyCar Series driver to claim the Indianapolis 500 and series title in the same season, earned three of the 17 votes from a national panel of motorsports media. Wheldon was honored as the second quarter driver of the year after winning the Indianapolis 500.

1996-1997 IndyCar Series and current NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart won the award.

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