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Published: Monday, 8/2/2004

Notebook: MIS gets IRL back next year, despite gear shift by truckers

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BROOKLYN, Mich. - When the Indy Racing League announces its schedule for 2005

tomorrow, Michigan International Speedway will be on the list to host a race on July 31.

There had been speculation that the IndyCar Series event at MIS might be in jeopardy since NASCAR announced last week that the Craftsman Truck Series, the support race for the IRL event here for the last three years, would move to June and be coupled with the Nextel Cup race.

The IRL is expected to be back at MIS for the final weekend in July next year, but will reduce the schedule to two days. MIS officials are floating the concept of running a pair of 200-mile races instead of the 400-mile event that has been presented in the past.

The two-race format has worked at MIS. The speedway held "twin races" through the 1970s. The proposed two 200-mile races would be a pair of sprints that are split by an intermission, with both events paying points in the IndyCar Series championship race.

The 16-race IRL schedule is expected to feature two new road-course events at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen in New York.

The IRL is expected to drop the events at Nazareth, Pa., and Texas Motor Speedway, which has added a fall Nextel Cup race in 2005. The Indianapolis 500 will run on May 29 next year.

A road-course race in St. Petersburg, Fla., is also being considered. The only overseas event will continue to be Motegi, Japan, on the last weekend in April.

As the Indy Racing League ponders tweaking its schedule to attract a bigger audience and increase its domestic exposure, there is also a move afoot to expand to sites outside the U.S. Marlboro Team Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. said that if he were making the schedule, there would be more races in close proximity to his Defiance-area home.

"I have heard about the possibility of running races in Mexico and Canada, but I haven't heard anything more about going overseas," Hornish said.

"I don't know what all of their plans are, and that's their deal.

`` If I could make the schedule, we'd be running a lot closer to home more often. We run this race in Michigan now, but this is a business, too, and they have to do what makes sense for the business."

Hornish realizes the IRL has a slightly different agenda than he does.

"The IRL has a pretty good thing going with what they have, but they have to keep the manufacturers and sponsors happy," Hornish said.

"I understand all of that is part of it."

Rookie P.J. Chesson won the Paramount Health Insurance 100 IRL Infiniti Pro Series race here yesterday, taking the lead for the final time with seven laps to go. Chesson averaged 173.112 mph, and led four times for a total of 12 laps.

"It was an amazing day," the New Jersey native said.

"I was not real comfortable with the race package at first, but we got faster and faster and faster, and that showed the steadfastness of our team.

``I don't think I've ever seen a track this big until I drove in here. This place rocks."

Chesson, who competed in New Zealand in the South Pacific Sprint Car championship earlier this year, won the World of Outlaws Historical Big One event at Eldora Speedway in 2001.

Thiago Medeiros was second in yesterday's race, and Al Unser third.



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