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Can IRL find success at Homestead Speedway?

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


You can sense the uneasiness in Curtis Gray by his nervous laughter.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway president remains optimistic the Grand Prix of Miami on Sunday can attract a crowd comparable to what rival CART drew last season.

"That's where we'd like to hit," Gray said this week.

CART officials retreated from Miami after, among other reasons, five years of decreased attendance at the Marlboro Grand Prix.

The 2000 season-opening event in March at the 1.5-mile track drew 30,000 to 40,000 spectators.

The IRL had been negotiating with Homestead-Miami Speedway officials before CART announced its pullout and quickly filled the spot.

"The glamor of the Indy-car style of racing has always been real popular in this area," Gray said. "I think that the international flavor that it brings is also good for the south Florida market, although the south Florida market has really taken to the whole NASCAR-style racing also in a big way."

IRL driver Davey Hamilton is concerned about the move to Miami.

"I know they've struggled in the past with other divisions in getting people in the grandstands," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see if ours is different or not."

Orlando may be the series' best market in Florida.

But IRL and Walt Disney World Speedway officials failed to agree last year on a schedule date for the Indy 200. The race was left off this year's schedule, though there is the possibility of a future return because the track was built by an affiliate of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I always liked that track (because) it's very unique," Hamilton said. "It always packed the grandstands and I think that's a healthy market for us as well."

The Grand Prix of Miami will be on the IRL schedule next season, of that Gray is sure. But after that?

"We're committed to the IRL and we think that's the future of open-wheel racing in this country," Gray said. "There's a transition between CART and IRL, but it's almost unnoticeable to race fans. The cars are identical ... They're both going over 200 mph.

"It's just a matter of getting the word out really."

RIVAL CIRCUIT: Five European automakers that supply engines to Formula One teams voted unanimously Wednesday to create a rival racing series.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association, composed of Fiat (Ferrari), Jaguar, BMW, Renault and DaimlerChrysler (Mercedes), is worried that Kirch/EM.TV will begin broadcasting Formula One races on pay-per-view.

Kirch and EM.TV are poised to purchase 75 percent of the circuit's commercial and broadcasting rights.

"We want to guarantee for this sport an orderly future, a future in which all the fans and spectators can get the most out of this entertainment," Fiat executive Paolo Cantarella told the Associated Press.

BET THE HOUSE: His place in the sport is secure, but Stacy Compton's start in Winston Cup racing was anything but.

A successful late-model driver at the time, Compton mortgaged his house to compete in his first Winston Cup event -- the Goody's 500 in 1996 at Martinsville Speedway.

He qualified ninth, one spot behind Dale Earnhardt, and finished 33rd.

"It was a big gamble. ... If I hadn't made the show, my entire life would have been different," Compton said.

"I'd probably be working in the body shop again and I'd probably have a different house."

Compton returns to the track for the Virginia 500 on Sunday driving the No. 92 Dodge owned by Melling Racing. He is 29th in the standings.

Mark Martin won last season.

NO SPLIT: Because of advertisers' concerns that it distracted viewers, NBC may not carry continuous coverage during commercial breaks of NASCAR races as it did during two events last season, network spokesman Mike McCarley told Bloomberg News.

The network, which begins its coverage of NASCAR in July, had planned to set aside 25 percent of the screen to advertisers who agreed.

ODDS AND ENDS: The IRL announced it will add a third engine supplier -- Toyota -- beginning in 2003. ... Dick Simon Racing will enter two cars in the Indianapolis 500 next month. Stephan Gregoire will drive one. Panther Racing (Sam Hornish Jr.), Indy Regency Racing (Cory Witherill) and Cahill Racing (Robby McGehee) filed entries Wednesday.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Winston Cup

WHAT: Virginia 500.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying (3 p.m., Fox Sports Net); Sunday, race (1 p.m., Ch. 13); Martinsville.

2000 WINNER: Mark Martin.

FAST FACTS: The 1999 fall race at Martinsville was the first time there had been only one pit road. ... Dale Jarrett, Mike Skinner, Stacy Compton and Mike Bliss made Winston Cup debuts in Martinsville. ... Lee Petty won the 1959 race from the 24th starting position. ... There have been seven winners the past seven years. ... Rusty Wallace won five of seven races at Martinsville from 1994-96.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Jarrett, 1,056; 2. Jeff Gordon, 981; 3. Johnny Benson, 946; 4. Steve Park, 933; 5. Sterling Marlin, 889; 6. Wallace, 879; 7. Bobby Hamilton, 825; 8. Elliott Sadler, 824; 9. Bill Elliott, 822; 10. Kevin Harvick, 811.

Craftsman Trucks

WHAT: Advance Auto Parts 250.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying, 1:30 p.m.; Saturday, race (2 p.m., ESPN); Martinsville, Va.

2000 WINNER: Bobby Hamilton.

FAST FACTS: In six races at Martinsville, there have been no repeat winners. ... Only Rich Bickle has won from the pole. ... No series winner has won at Martinsville. ... Jack Sprague and Jimmy Hensley have competed in all six races at Martinsville.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Scott Riggs, 495; 2. Joe Ruttman, 483; 3. Ted Musgrave, 472; (tie) Ricky Hendrick, 472; 5. Jack Sprague, 472; 6. Randy Tolsma, 444; 7. Terry Cook, 435; 8. Coy Gibbs, 400; 9. Rick Crawford, 397; 10. Travis Kvapil, 393.

IRL

WHAT: Grand Prix of Miami.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Saturday, qualifying, 4:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m., ESPN2, tape); Sunday, race (2 p.m., Ch. 28); Homestead.

FAST FACTS: This is the series' inaugural event in south Florida. ... The series is not awarding points for qualifying this season. ... Greg Ray, the 1999 series champ, has won an IRL-record 10 poles. ... Davey Hamilton is the only driver to compete in all 44 IRL events. ... Felipe Giaffone leads the rookie standings after one race.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Sam Hornish Jr., 52; 2. Eliseo Salazar, 40; 3. Buddy Lazier, 35; 4. Scott Sharp, 32; 5. Billy Boat, 30; 6. Giaffone, 28; 7. Jeff Ward, 26; 8. Robby McGehee, 24; 9. Buzz Calkins, 22; 10. Airton Dare, 20.

CART

WHAT: Toyota Grand Prix.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Saturday, qualifying 4:30 p.m. (2 a.m. Sunday, ESPN2, taped); Sunday, race (4 p.m., Ch. 28); Long Beach, Calif.

2000 WINNER: Paul Tracy.

FAST FACTS: The best finish for a Toyota was third, last year by Jimmy Vasser. ... Mario Andretti won the first four events at Long Beach (1984-87).

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Cristiano da Matta, 21; 2. Gil de Ferran, 16; 3. Tracy, 14; 4. Michael Andretti, 12; 5. Kenny Brack, 11; 6. Vasser, 8; 7. Tony Kanaan, 6; 8. Helio Castroneves, 5; 9. Dario Franchitti, 4; 10. Tora Takagi, 3.

NHRA

WHAT: SummitRacing.com Nationals.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying, 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 2 p.m. (9:30 p.m., ESPN2, taped); Sunday, eliminations, 2 p.m. (8 p.m., ESPN2, taped); Las Vegas.

2000 WINNER: Top Fuel -- Kenny Bernstein; Funny Car -- Jim Epler; Pro Stock -- Jeg Coughlin; Pro Stock Truck -- Bob Panella; Pro Stock Bike -- Angelle Savoie.

FAST FACTS: Last year was the inaugural event. ... The track features luxury suites above the grandstand covering the quarter-mile -- the first such facility in drag racing. ... Before last year's victory in Las Vegas, Bernstein had not won an event since 1998. ... The track will hold a second event this year in October.

POINTS STANDINGS: (Top Fuel) 1. Mike Dunn, 273;2. Darrell Russell, 257;3. Doug Kalitta, 245;4. Larry Dixon, 230;5. Gary Scelzi, 184;6. Bernstein, 159; 7. Doug Herbert, 145;8. Tony Schumacher, 140;9. David Grubnic, 139;10. Bobby Baldwin, 133. (Funny Car) 1. John Force, 246;2. Bruce Sarver, 242;3. Del Worsham, 201;4. Whit Bazemore, 185;5. Ron Capps, 184;6. Gary Densham, 176; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 163;8. Tony Pedregon, 159;9. Chuck Etchells, 157;10. Frank Pedregon, 142. (Pro Stock) 1. Warren Johnson, 310; 2. Kurt Johnson, 244; 3. Mark Pawuk, 199;4. Darrell Alderman, 181; 5. Bruce Allen, 180; 6. Jim Yates, 160; 7. Brad Jeter, 158;8. Jeg Coughlin, 157;9. Mike Edwards, 151;10. Richie Stevens, 137. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) 1. Savoie, 115;2. Matt Hines, 97;3. Antron Brown, 78;4. Craig Treble, 76;5. Geno Scali, 54;6. Steve Johnson, 53;7. Reggie Showers, 52;8. Shawn Gann, 33;9. Mike Berry, 32;10. Chris Bostick, 32. (Pro Stock Truck) 1. Randy Daniels, 235; 2. Greg Stanfield, 188;3. Panella, 155;4. Jeff Gracia, 150;5. Scott Perin, 130; 6. Mike Corvo Jr., 105; 7. Brian Self, 85;8. Todd Patterson, 85;9. Mike Coughlin, 84; 10. Don Smith, 67.

Busch Grand National

UP NEXT: Pepsi 300, April 14, Nashville, Tenn.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Kevin Harvick, 1,097; 2. Jason Keller, 982; 3. Greg Biffle, 971; 4. Jeff Green, 923; 5. Jimmie Johnson, 917; 6. Mike McLaughlin, 870; 7. Jeff Purvis, 858; 8. Kenny Wallace, 848; 9. Matt Kenseth, 824; 10. Todd Bodine, 809.

Formula One

UP NEXT: San Marino Grand Prix, April 15, Imola, Italy.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Michael Schumacher, 26; 2. David Coulthard, 20; 3. Rubens Barrichello, 10; 4. Nick Heidfeld, 7; 5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, 5; 6. Olivier Panis, 3; 7. Ralf Schumacher, 2; 8. Jarno Trulli, 2; 9. (tie) Kimi Raikkonen, 1; Mika Hakkinen, 1; Giancarlo Fisichella, 1.

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