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Local IRL race has 50-50 chance

Published August 7, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS - Indy Racing League president Tony George said Friday that if his open-wheel series is to race on the streets of St. Petersburg next spring, some form of agreement between an as-yet-unnamed promoter and the city likely will need to start forming within "the next two or three days."

"We'll know very soon if this is better or worse than a 50-50 chance of happening," said George, who was lingering behind the scenes of a Brickyard 400 fan event. "This is what I give it right now, a 50-50 chance. My hope is it can go through and it will happen. We'd like for it to happen."

George said he believed talks were held Friday, and the city and promoter were conducting due-diligence on each other. He said it was "not his place" to divulge the names of the potential promoters, but said to his knowledge they had not promoted a race before.

"I think all the parties are all familiar with each other in the context of other business," he said. "I think the promoter is a group of people who are trying to evaluate the opportunity and maybe put their consortium together."

The recently released IRL schedule has no races from March 21-April 17, but a St. Petersburg date would likely have to occur before spring training at Progress Energy Park.

TOUGH TIMES: Veteran driver Ward Burton finds himself in the same situation as last summer, unsigned for next season while his team tries to secure a full-time sponsorship.

Burton, 42, has two top 10s this season but finished better than 20th just once in the past month in a No. 0 Chevy owned by Gene Haas and receiving some engine support from Hendrick Motorsports. Burton said he wants to stay with Haas but is keeping his "options open" to assure he keeps a job. His brother, Jeff, has run the No. 99 Ford without a full sponsorship at Roush Racing.

"It worries me a little bit, and I know I have to go with the flow," Ward Burton said, "but it's tough sometimes because I've been in this sport a long time and I feel like I have a minimum of two or three great years to give. I feel like physically and mentally I'm better than I've ever been, and I just need the car to show it."

LIKE HOME: Kasey Kahne is not a member of the homegrown posse of drivers so popular at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, he has spent enough time in the state to love the venerable old track built in 1909. He lived in Indianapolis for three summers while coming up through the open-wheel ranks.

"I've been to two or three Indy 500s and two or three Brickyard 400s," said the 24-year-old rookie making his first start at the track Sunday. "I've been around it so much it's pretty much a thrill to be in one of the races."

SPARK PLUGS: Busch Series regular Jason Leffler had the fastest practice lap at 184.460. ... IMS is one of the few tracks where qualifying matters, as five of the past six winners have started fourth or better. Qualifying early also matters, as the track conducts its pole session from the late morning until early afternoon Saturday. A cool track means faster speeds and likely a better qualifying speed. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drew the first qualifying spot, with series-leader Jimmie Johnson 41st. "Whoever puts the schedule together doesn't understand the combination of weather and cars," said Newman, who started second after qualifying early last season. ... It was a costly day of practice, as Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford, Hermie Sadler's No. 02 Chevrolet and Scott Pruett's No. 09 Dodge were heavily damaged after running into barriers. Pruett was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released. ... An IMS safety worker died from injuries suffered when he lost control of the motor scooter he was driving and struck a concrete barrier in the infield.

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