RECORD 34 ENTRIES FOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
By Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
The Lazier brothers, Jimmy Kite, Jeff Simmons, John Andretti. With 34 entrants for the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16, they're about the only drivers who won't be running at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Of course, that's overstating it, but the 1.5-mile oval will be crowded with IZOD IndyCar Series cars traveling 215-plus mph in the season finale and the sunset race for the current Dallara chassis.
The next generation car, which will have three engine manufacturers supplying the turbo power, makes its competition debut March 25, 2012, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
It's the most entrants for a non-Indianapolis 500 in IZOD IndyCar Series history, and the previous mark of 31 cars in 1997 also was for a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In addition to the championship duel between Dario Franchitti and Will Power, who trails by 18 points, and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year chase that features James Hinchcliffe holding a six-point advantage over Indy 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand, is the storyline of reigning 500 Mile Race champion Dan Wheldon shooting for a $5 million prize (which he'll split with an entrant in the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge sweepstakes).
There's a catch naturally. Wheldon will have to come from the rear of the field to win to collect. Helio Castroneves holds the distinction of winning from the furthest starting position (27th in the 2008 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway).
For the sixth consecutive season, the IZOD IndyCar Series championship will be decided in the final event. While neither Franchitti nor Power has raced on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, both have had recent success at a similar oval -- Texas Motor Speedway -- where they split victories the Firestone Twin 275s in June.
Franchitti has the upper-hand in oval wins (15-1) with four of those victories coming on 1.5-mile ovals. In championship-deciding races, Franchitti has also shined, clinching his first two IZOD IndyCar Series titles in 1.5-mile events (Chicagoland 2007 and Homestead 2009).
Some notable non-full-season names on the roster for Vegas:
• Paul Tracy back in the No. 8 Dragon Racing car. The driver with 31 Indy car victories will compete for the seventh time this season.
• Firestone Indy Lights graduates Jay Howard and Pippa Mann competing for Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Howard last competed at Texas, while Mann started her second IZOD IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2.
• Davey Hamilton and Townsend Bell in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing cars. Hamilton will be making his fourth start, and Bell will be making his third. Bell, filling in for the injured Justin Wilson (back), advanced 15 positions to finish 11th at Kentucky.
• Buddy Rice, who popped in ninth at Kentucky in his second start of the season.
• Tomas Scheckter driving a second entry for Sarah Fisher Racing, which earned its first IZOD IndyCar Series victory Oct. 2.
• Alex Tagliani driving the No. 98 William Rast/Bowers & Wilkinsc car for the combo of Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian/Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He had been driving the No. 77 car through Twin Ring Motegi.