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MOTOR RACING NOTES

Men Behind Wheel Are Driving Force in IROC

April 27, 2002|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending Indy Racing League champion and its current leader. Helio Castroneves is the defending Indianapolis 500 champion who scales fences after his victories and trails Hornish by nine points in the standings.

But the rivalry in their day jobs takes a back seat this afternoon in the True Value International Race of Champions. They say they won't be racing against each other as much as against everyone else.

"First thing I'll do is see who won," Hornish said. "The next thing I'll look for is to see where Tony Stewart finished."

Stewart, second in the Winston Cup series last season, has made a habit in recent years of competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. The 1997 IRL champion, Stewart was second last season in the Winston Cup standings, and in 1995 he won midget, sprint and Silver Crown titles. Everyone knows Stewart can drive, and he won the first IROC race of the season.

"When we come here, it's just driver vs. driver," Hornish said. "It was such a good feeling to finish second at Daytona, I was so happy because I started last. I'm not just racing [11] ordinary guys.

"It's a tough series."

Also in the field are Kevin Harvick, Jack Sprague and Danny Lasoski, the 2001 champions respectively in the Busch, Craftsman Truck and World of Outlaws series.

This is the second of four races featuring 12 drivers in identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds. IRL drivers did exceptionally well in the opener at Daytona, with Hornish finishing second, Scott Sharp third and Al Unser Jr. fifth.

Sprague, now driving in the Busch series, was fourth. Others in the field are Winston Cup drivers Bobby Labonte, Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett, and IRL drivers Buddy Lazier and Scott Sharp.

Castroneves, a Brazilian, is looking for redemption. He starts on the front row alongside Jarrett, the 1999 Winston Cup champion, because the cars are placed on the grid based on inverted standings. Castroneves finished 11th among 12 drivers at Daytona.

"It's a shame that we don't have an IRL type of IROC--this is not my territory," Castroneves said of driving a stock car. "It would be great to win a race, especially here in California. I want to climb the fence real bad."

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Qualifying for today's NASCAR Busch Series Auto Club 300 was rained out, so the grid positions were determined by owner points. Sprague will start first, Jason Keller second, Jeff Green third and Randy LaJoie fourth.

It was a blessing for Sprague, Keller and LaJoie. The fastest among the three was Keller, who was only 14th fastest in the Friday morning practice.

Sprague, a three-time Craftsman Truck champion, was 17th on the two-mile oval, and LaJoie 18th.

Green's Chevrolet was fastest in practice before the scheduled qualifying at 183.052 mph, just ahead of Jeff Burton's Ford. The top three practice times in the late practice session belonged to Bobby Hamilton Jr. (180.569 mph), who starts eighth; Greg Biffle, who starts seventh; and Stacy Compton, who starts 10th.

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All 92,000 reserved grandstand tickets for Sunday's Winston Cup race are sold out, but tickets remain for today's Winston West, Busch Grand National and IROC series races. It is the sixth consecutive sellout at the speedway for a Winston Cup race.

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