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Bourdais still hopes for unity
By BRANT JAMES
Published March 14, 2006
Sebastien Bourdais has been let down enough times by open-wheel reunification rumors to know better. But the two-time defending Champ Car series champion and St. Petersburg resident is letting his guard down again.
Maybe, he said, the casual conversations Indy Racing League founder Tony George has had with Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven will finally unite the sport under one banner after 11 years.
"I'm just a believer," Bourdais said via cell phone. "For once in my life, I want to be a believer. I want this thing to get back together. It would be so cool to get the best of both sides and put on a great schedule. How much better could that be?"
Reunification would allow Bourdais to again contest the IRL's Indianapolis 500 after finishing 12th last year in his first try. This year Champ Car scheduled races on both Indy qualifying weekends, but Bourdais said it was unlikely team-owner Carl Haas would have fielded an entry anyway. Bourdais' teammate, Bruno Junqueira , suffered a season-ending back injury in the 500 last season.
"Hopefully," Bourdais said, "the 500 will be on the open-wheel schedule in '07 for everybody."
Bourdais left the Champ Car publicity tour after one session in Los Angeles on Monday to return to Tampa and drive to Sebring, where he will get his only practice of the week today before racing in Saturday's 12 Hours of Sebring. Bourdais has a weakness for sports car racing - he grew up in Le Mans, France, site of the world famous 24-hour race in which he has competed alongside his father, Patrick. Bourdais has driven the Sebring event twice and will share duties in a Panoz Esperante GTLM in the GT2 class.
Bourdais finished 27th in a GT1-class Ferrari 500 Maranello last year.
BAD BLOOD: Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch found each other again on the racetrack Sunday, with Stewart gesturing at the second-year Nextel Cup driver late in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 500 at Las Vegas. The two have exchanged paint and barbs since Daytona, when Stewart started speaking out against aggressive driving and Busch became the whipping boy.
"I guess I have to go have another chitchat with him to figure out what I did wrong. I guess we can't race each other, I don't know," said Busch, who finished third. "California seemed to go pretty well, but I'm not sure what I did wrong today to aggravate him or whatnot, but we'll go figure it out."
Stewart brushed the wall, bending his front enough to start rubbing the tires, on Lap 256. He finished 21st.
Stewart was perturbed that Busch was "holding us up for no reason" with about 80 laps left. Whatever the Stewart-Busch feud is, competitors have learned to take notice when their cars are in close proximity.
"Oh, I saw them," laughed veteran Jeff Burton , who finished seventh. "I wouldn't want to be part of that. It wasn't looking very pretty."
HISTORIC TRY: Bill Lester is expected to announced in a news conference today that he will attempt to qualify for Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, possibly making him the first African-American to qualify for a race in NASCAR's top series since Willy T. Ribbs in 1986.
Lester, an Atlanta native, drives for Bill Davis Racing in the NASCAR Truck series.
HELPING OUT: A decal likeness of missing 24-year-old Orlando resident Jennifer Kesse will be placed on the deck lid of Jeremy Mayfield 's No.19 Dodge for Sunday's Nextel Cup race.
Kesse was reported missing Jan.24. Team owner Ray Evernham attended high school with Kesse's mother, Joyce.
"When someone I went to high school with calls and asks for help, I'm going to do what I can to get the word out," Evernham said in a release.
SPARK PLUGS: Roush Racing will field a third NASCAR Truck series team Friday night in Atlanta for David Ragan , a Georgia native. ... With Kelly Sutton and rookie Erin Crocker running Friday, the truck race will have 100 races - 55 in a row - with at least one woman. The Busch series has had a female starter for 237 straight.