Indy 500 Notebook: IRL president makes safety plea for race's first turn

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The scariest part of the Indianapolis 500 is the first few moments when the green starting flag sends 33 cars screaming toward the narrow first turn for the first of the 200 laps.

"Please consider the competitors around you," Indy Racing League president Brian Barnhart warned the drivers yesterday.

"We're three-wide on a 50-foot-wide straightaway followed by Turn 1, which is a one-groove [turn] in the race track. Fall in line, inside position first, followed by the middle position and the outside position, providing plenty of gap and distance between the rows for a safe start."

The 33 drivers, led by pole-winner Helio Castroneves and front-row mates Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti, sat under the scoring tower for the public drivers meeting as a steady rain pelted the track in front of them. There's a 70 percent chance of rain today.

"The key to a good start is driver patience and discipline between the rows," Barnhart told them. "Don't crowd the drivers in front of, beside of or behind you. Some segments of the race are about track position, but Turn 1 of the first lap isn't one of them."

Penske son in race ... as owner

Watch for Penske to make a run for the money in the Indianapolis 500 today.

Not Roger, but Jay Penske, 28, son of the Indy car legend and a former all-state hockey and lacrosse player at Orchard Lake St. Mary's in Michigan.

The younger Penske, who wears his hair long and is a California-based media and technology entrepreneur, is co-owner of Luczo Dragon Racing with Steve Luczo, the hard-disc-drive guru who served as CEO of Seagate Technology in 1998-2004.

Their driver is Aussie Ryan Briscoe, a young man who almost died in an Indy Racing League crash at Chicagoland Speedway in 2005 and who qualified his yellow No. 12 Symantec Norton 360 Dallara/Honda seventh, on the inside of Row 3, for this weekend's race.

Team Penske, which runs pole-sitter Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr., who won a year ago, is providing Jay and his group plenty of technical support and expertise. After all, Dad has 14 Indy 500 victories.

Jay, who owns VSI of Los Angeles and Dragon Books Ltd., goes unrecognized in Gasoline Alley, but he is thrilled to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and with a driver who could pull of an upset.

Petty an invited guest

NASCAR great Richard Petty will attend the race as John Andretti's guest.

Petty plans to fly to Indianapolis this morning from Greensboro, N.C., with Robbie Loomis, vice president of Petty Enterprises, and crew chief Dale Inman. Afterward, they'll fly to Concord, N.C., for the Coca-Cola 600 tonight.

"I've never had the chance to see the start of the Indianapolis 500 in person," Petty said. "John has given us a great opportunity. We couldn't pass this up. I guess we'll see what this 'double duty' is all about."

Andretti, the first driver to compete in both races the same day in 1994, will replace Petty's son, Kyle, in four races this summer.

Goal missed, it's TV now

When two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart began thinking about going racing as a kid in Indiana, his goal was to race in and win the Indianapolis 500.

After serving an apprenticeship in short-track racing, Stewart got to Indianapolis in 1996 and has raced there five times, with a best finish of fifth in 1997. He also won the IndyCar Series title in 1997 before heading for NASCAR.

Even though he hasn't run an IndyCar race since finishing sixth at Indianapolis in 2001, his interest in the open-wheel cars has never waned. Stewart, who will race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, wouldn't think of missing the 500, at least on TV.

"I'll wake up in time to watch the start of it and I'll take a shower during the first commercial and watch as much of it as I can, just like I have the last couple of years," Stewart said.

Fans to serenade Nabors

Jim Nabors is home in Hawaii.

For most of the past 35 years, Nabors, 76, has sung "Back Home Again in Indiana" during pre-race ceremonies, but illness will force the actor-entertainer to miss the race today. This year, fans will serenade him instead. Nabors is expected to address the crowd on Speedway video boards today, then ask fans to sing in his place.


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