IRL takes direct approach with Patrick
JOLIET, Ill. -- The IRL is taking a hands-on approach to keep Danica Patrick.
Series officials have talked directly with her representatives at IMG in an effort to keep racing's glamour girl with the IRL and prevent a jump to NASCAR after this season.
"We think it's very important," said Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division. "We have worked hard and closely with IMG to hopefully give them confidence in the future of our series and her role in the future of our series. Those conversations have gone very well. I think we're looking pretty good. ... We feel good about it. We hope it's all going to come together."
Patrick's three-year contract with Andretti Green Racing expires at the end of the season, and although she has indicated she plans to stay put, she sidestepped questions about her future before the race at Chicagoland Speedway.
It's easy to see why keeping her is a top priority for the IRL.
One of the most marketable stars, Patrick entered Saturday's race fifth on the points list and had a season-high third-place finish at the Indy 500 that ranks as the best showing in that event by a woman.
Patrick told SI.com before last week's race at Sonoma that "things are going well, and we are definitely moving forward so that is good" but would not discuss her future this week, repeatedly saying there were three races remaining. A switch to NASCAR could mean more salary, marketing and sponsorship opportunities, but the IRL is making a strong sales pitch.
"We really respect their role, respect the magnitude of this decision for her, and they're going to do what's best for her," Angstadt said. "And we've respected that from Day 1. That's why you try to present your property as effectively as you can, and you hope she makes the right decision."
HERRINGTON WINS LIGHTS RACE, HILDEBRAND TAKES TITLE: Daniel Herrington won the Indy Lights Race, while J.R. Hildebrand claimed the series championship with a fifth-place showing on Saturday.
Herrington beat James Davison by 0.0613 seconds for his first victory, with Andrew Prendeville third and Wade Cunningham fourth.
Hildebrand, a National Merit Scholar with a two-year deferral to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only needed to finish 14th to claim the series title. Instead, he turned in his 11th top-10 performance, giving him 503 points and the championship in his second year on the series and his first with Andretti Green. He is also the second straight Lights champion for AGR, with Raphael Matos taking the title a year ago.
"It was a long, hard race," Hildebrand said. "I think there were a lot of white knuckles coming out of the car at the end. But I'm really happy for all the guys. The crew did an awesome job."
Did Hildebrand earn a promotion? He's not sure, although he believes his future largely hinges on Patrick's decision.
"What Danica is going to do probably has a big effect on where a lot of people go this year," Hildebrand said. "It looks like she's going to stay now, so we just have to sort some things out in the offseason. For me, as a driver, I'd love nothing more than to be able to move up within this organization, so we'll see what happens."
BRAZIL DEAL?: The IndyCar series already has announced that it will race in Brazil next season, but has yet to commit to a specific venue. That might change soon, as series officials are headed to Salvador, Brazil early next week in hopes of securing a deal to race on a road course there.
"I think all the basic business fundamentals are out in the open, and don't think there's any issues there, and hope to get something signed while we're there," Angstadt said.
In a meeting with IndyCar team owners Saturday afternoon, Angstadt outlined the series' general plans to contain the cost of racing. Angstadt also said he is "very" confident that the Versus network, which televises IndyCar races, will resolve a standoff with satellite television provider DirecTV. Angstadt also is optimistic the series is close to signing a title sponsor for next season.
A NIGHT OUT: A night at the track seemed like a good idea to Helio Castroneves. Others weren't so sure, though.
Held in the past on Sunday afternoon, the PEAK Indy 300 got moved under the lights to a scheduled 9 p.m. Central start on Saturday.
"The main thing is it's a great event when you have a night race," Castroneves said. "People can come from everywhere, downtown or other places, stay one night, and still watching a fantastic race. So for me it's a great change."
Late-riser Dario Franchitti didn't mind getting a chance to sleep in and said it was "perfect for me," but he wondered if East Coast viewers would be able to watch until the end. Scott Dixon also wondered about fans and saw potential problems for the drivers.
"I'm not certain it's the best time for us to be racing," he said. "You look at it, it's 10 Eastern, might be great for people out on the West Coast. But that's what we got. I think the conditions are going to be very good for the cars. Lots of grip. The pack racing will come into factor a lot more. ... If you look at it around 10:00 or 11:00 when the race is finishing, down into the 50s in temperature. That's getting pretty low."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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