The Herald Bulletin

February 26, 2014

Ken de la Bastide: Indy 500 champ returning in 2014

The Herald Bulletin

---- — With activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just a few months away, the IZOD IndyCar Series is getting a boost for the Indianapolis 500.

It will be officially announced today that former Indy 500 winner, 1997 CART champion and 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve is returning to IMS.

Villeneuve will be driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in a third car joining veteran Simon Pagenaud and rookie Mikhail Aleshin.

In two career starts in the Indianapolis 500, Villeneuve finished second in 1994 and won the 1995 race.

With the return of 2000 race winner Juan Pablo Montoya to the IZOD IndyCar Series, that’s good news for race organizers and the fans of both drivers.

The other interesting development for the “500” is an effort to have a “People’s Race Car” in the race. Two fans are trying to raise the money to enter a car in the Indy 500 without corporate sponsorship.

The goal is for 10,000 people to provide $100 to be part of the Cutters Race Team. Everyone donating money will have their name on the car.

Sarah Fisher Racing is a partner in the project and will be providing a car for the effort.

I like the concept and hope that the Cutters Race Team selects a driver with local short track racing ties. Bryan Clauson would be a natural to drive the team or Conor Daley.

The goal is to have 3,000 people sign up by late March. Depending on how many fans agree to provide $100, the car could have corporate sponsorship to make a qualifying attempt.

If successful, the effort should attract a lot of attention among the media and the fans.

As the AARP commercial aptly states “Sign me up.”

In other racing news: With the Sprint Cup race at Phoenix this weekend, it will be the first time the new “knock-out” qualifying format will be used to set the starting field. I normally don’t watch qualifying for a NASCAR race, but depending on the time frame, I will be watching to see how it works.

While watching the racing action at Daytona this past weekend, it made me think of all the drivers in the NASCAR fields who have raced on the short tracks in Indiana. The list is impressive.

Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Josh Wise, Chase Elliott, Mike Wallace, Dakoda Armstrong, Johnny Sauter, Mason Mingus and James Buescher have all raced at local racing venues as they climbed the ladder to NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the Daytona 500 was a boost for NASCAR after the nearly seven-hour rain delay. The two big crashes in the Daytona 500 were caused by veteran Kevin Harvick and rookie Austin Dillon.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.