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Fittipaldi will race in Busch qualifier

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 1, 2001


Open-wheel star Christian Fittipaldi tested at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday -- in a stock car.

Fittipaldi, a CART series regular, will attempt to qualify for the NASCAR Busch Grand National race Nov. 10 at Homestead. He will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet fielded by Innovative Motorsports.

"I'm very happy to be here," Fittipaldi said during a break from testing. "It's something completely different than what I'm used to. I'm really looking forward to the race.

"NASCAR is definitely very big and it's something that I have watched on television for a long time. I'm really happy to have this chance together with these guys and hopefully there will be a lot of excitement when we come here for the race weekend."

If he makes the BGN race, Fittipaldi, the nephew of retired racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, would join an elite group of drivers who have raced in Formula One, CART and NASCAR. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Fittipaldi resides in Key Biscayne.

Fittipaldi finished 14th in the CART standings driving for Newman-Haas. Carl Haas, who also owns part of a Winston Cup team, encouraged Fittipaldi to attend a NASCAR race.

"I have to admit that ever since I came over here in 1995, I started looking at the sport and I definitely realized that it is very, very big," Fittipaldi said. "Then I went to Bristol and I was impressed with what I saw."

After his first spin in a stock car, Fittipaldi said the differences between driving the Chevrolet and his Lola champ car around the 1.5-mile oval were obvious.

"You have to understand a lot more why you're going quick or why you're going slow," Fittipaldi said of the Busch car. "And sometimes you have to go slow in order to go quick. You can't overdrive the car. It's a lot more thinking than people realize. People just think that you sit in a car, press the gas pedal and off you go."

Fittipaldi said the NASCAR experiment is purely for fun. He has no intention of altering his plans to drive for Newman-Haas in the 2002 CART season. But he would not rule out a future in NASCAR.

"This is a one-time deal," Fittipaldi said. "Maybe there's a possibility it could happen one day. I have to feel it out and I have to learn a lot, because this is a completely different world to what I'm used to. And we'll just go from there."

BRING AN UMBRELLA: NASCAR officials will meet with team owners, drivers and crew chiefs today at the Joe Gibbs Racing shop in Huntersville, N.C., to discuss ideas for improving the aerodynamics rules at Daytona and Talladega superspeedways.

NASCAR spokesperson Danielle Humphrey called it a "brainstorming session." NASCAR promised changes to the rules, which keep the cars in a dangerously tight pack, when several veterans complained after a 15-car wreck on the last lap Oct. 20 at Talladega.

"I'm excited that there is a roundtable discussion set up," said James Ince, crew chief for Johnny Benson's No. 10 Pontiac. "I don't think that we would want this on a normal, weekly deal. But with Daytona and Talladega, we've all got a problem and we're in it together. I think it's really good that NASCAR is involving the race teams to try to figure it out."

TITLE CHASE: Kevin Harvick can clinch the NASCAR Busch Series title with a strong run Saturday at Rockingham. Harvick has a 198-point lead over defending champion Jeff Green and needs only to maintain a 186-point advantage to wrap up the title.

"We're approaching Rockingham like we have every other track this season," said Harvick, who drives the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. "We're going to stay with what got us here and that's aggressive racing.

"I'm not saying that I'm going to put myself in bad situations on the track, but we think we can go out and contend for the win."

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

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