© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2003
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Paul Tracy will skip the Indianapolis 500 next month, and that's fine with him.
Tracy, off to the best start of his CART career with victories in the first two Champ Car events, wants to win the series championship for the first time.
The last time an American open-wheel driver started the season with three straight victories was in 1971, by Al Unser in the U.S. Auto Club Champ Car Series.
Tracy heads into today's provisional qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with an 11-point lead over Michel Jourdain Jr., who has finished second in St. Petersburg and Monterrey, Mexico.
The street course in downtown Long Beach has been a favorite for Tracy, who got the first of his 21 career wins there in 1993 and added another victory in 2000.
"All I want to do is do a good job, finish the race and get some points," he said. "I know that if we can come out of the trailer with a good car and start close to the front, then I can win in any situation."
The Indy 500, meantime, holds little interest for Tracy, particularly after last year's disputed finish. The race ended under caution, and Tracy still insists he passed winner Helio Castroneves seconds before the yellow lights went on.
IRL officials turned down a postrace protest and ruled against Tracy and then-car owner Barry Green in an ensuing appeal.
"It's something that I don't really think about from day to day," the Canadian driver said. "But, you know, I still feel and know that based on the evidence that is there at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in their film department, I know that I won the race.
"It's really politics that have dictated the outcome of the race. There's really nothing I can do about it."
INDY 500: Only 34 sets of cars will compete for 33 starting spots at the May 25 race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesman Ron Green attributed the decline to the teams' trouble in securing sponsors in a rough economy. He also cited this year's new chassis and engine specifications, which are renewed on a three-year cycle.
The 67 entries include 34 main and 33 backup cars. Last year's list had 89 cars.
The list contains just 28 drivers, but more are expected as the race approaches.
CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS: Darrell Waltrip will get back on track this season for a pair of events, including Saturday's race at Martinsville Speedway.
The three-time Winston Cup champion has driven a handful of truck events since retiring from stock cars following the 2000 season. A year ago, he qualified 17th in Martinsville, but finished 34th when his engine failed.
This time he will drive a truck belonging to brother and current Winston Cup star Michael Waltrip, and he will have Fox Broadcast partners Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond, both former crew chiefs, as part of the team.
McReynolds will serve as spotter and Hammond will offer advice from the pit box. All three will wear live microphones.
The group will do it again in May at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
"The last time we did this, there weren't a lot of expectations," Waltrip said. "With Mikey's truck, his Busch crew, DEI motors and all the talent involved, they are going to know we are there when we roll into Martinsville.
"And I need to be on the racetrack. I need that presence in the garage and I want the guys in there to look at me as a driver."
McReynolds said, "When we talk to the competitors in the garage, they can't always share everything with us. The teams are trying to keep secrets and keep the upper hand on the competition, so we can only tell the viewers as much as they are willing to tell us.
"With DW's truck tour, we can take the viewers deeper into the game of NASCAR racing than they have ever been before."
No truck testing is allowed, but Waltrip did get some laps on the Martinsville track last week in Busch and Cup cars.