4:20 p.m. – The focus of attention was supposed to be on Dario Franchitti and Will Power and their battle for the IZOD IndyCar Series season championship but Danica Patrick stole the show Thursday by leading practice with an eye-popping 224.719 mph lap around the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It’s friggin’ fast here!” Patrick exclaimed as she prepared for her final start in the IndyCar Series as a full-time driver – Sunday’s 200-lap IZOD IndyCar World Championship Presented by Honda. “It’s going to be crazy out there Sunday.”
Fellow IndyCar Series driver Oriol Servia, who was second fastest in practice, agreed.
“It’s so fast and you’re so close to each other, it’s exciting,” Servia said. “There’s really no room for error and it’s exciting and the fans here are going to have a great, great show.”
The field of 34 IndyCars will return to LVMS Friday and will be joined by the Firestone Indy Lights and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. A full schedule of on-track events includes practice and qualifying for all three series, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Ticket gates also open at 8:30 a.m.
Visit http://www.lvms.com/tickets/truck_indycar_weekend/ for a complete schedule of events for the weekend.
Good night from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and be sure to check back here throughout the weekend for the latest results and driver interviews
4:06 p.m. – Gustavo Yacaman (Team Moore Racing) led the second practice session for the Firestone Indy Lights Series with a lap of 194.118 mph. Esteban Guerrieri (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) was second fastest at 193.665 mph and Stefan Wilson (Andretti Autosport) was third at 193.552.
3 p.m. – Ann Babenco of High Bridge, N.J., is the winner of the GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge sweepstakes and is in line to win $2.5 million should IndyCar Series driver Dan Wheldon win Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Babenco was chosen in a drawing to split the $5 million GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge payday with Wheldon, the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, if he can win the race.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t think I could (win) it,” Wheldon said of going for $5 million despite starting Sunday’s race from the back of the 34-car field. “But I’m not going to underestimate the talents of people like Will (Power) and Dario (Franchitti).
“This happened to be a track that suits my style – the one-and-a-half-mile tracks, I like a lot. I’ll be doing everything I can but it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a strong 33 cars in front of me, there’s no doubt about it, but I feel that we have the ability to do it.”
Wheldon will be driving the No. 77 entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.
2:20 p.m. – Former racer Michael Shank announced today that he is expanding his racing operation to include a full-time IZOD IndyCar Series team in 2012 under the MSR Indy banner.
Shank said that he has taken on Columbus, Ohio, businessman Brian Bailey and NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger at principal partners. Allmendinger, who drives in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will not drive the MSR Indy entry, but Shank has not yet announced his driver for next season.
2:10 p.m. – Comments from Oriol Servia, who was second fastest (224.026 mph) in practice today for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar World Championships:
“It’s so fast and you’re so close to each other, it’s exciting. The fans are going to get a good show, I’ll tell you. It’s kind of crazy. It’s great that the track is smooth because at least you can be consistent trying to keep your car in line and follow the guy in front when you’re three wide. Because it’s smooth, it allows everybody to be really close and we’re talking three wide – and I’m sure some moments we’re going to be four wide – and it’s not just one row, it’s going to be like five rows three wide and five more rows three wide. There’s really no room for error and it’s exciting and the fans here are going to have a great, great show.”
2 p.m. – Comments from Danica Patrick, who set the top speed (224.719 mph) in practice today for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar World Championships:
“It’s friggin’ fast here! That was almost a 225(-mph) lap and that’s fast – and I’m not surprised. I got a big draft – I think any speeds up there are big drafts. I think even I’m surprised that I’m almost 225. The track is just nice and smooth and the cars go around here really quickly, we’re three-wide out there and it’s going to be exciting. The race is going to be crazy and the crashes will be spectacular.
“I think it’s sad that this is probably the first time I’ve been the quickest at any point (this season). I’d just like to finish this right and I’d like to finish it off on a good note and nothing would sort of let me turn the page to the next chapter better than winning here.”
1:20 p.m. – Danica Patrick remained atop the speed chart after an abbreviated Group Two practice session with a fast lap of 224.719 mph. Oriol Servia was second fastest and the only other driver to top 224 mph at 224.026. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third-fastest at 223.888 mph, Scott Dixon was fourth (223.689) and Mike Conway was fifth (223.558).
The drivers of the IndyCar Series are done for the day with practice but all 34 will head to the Strip this evening for a parade lap on the world-famous street beginning at 8 p.m.
The Firestone Indy Lights drivers will return to the 1.5-mile oval this afternoon at 3 for a one-hour practice session.
12:55 p.m. – Danica Patrick jumped to the top of the speed chart during IndyCar Series practice for Group Two with a lap at 224.719 mph. Patrick, driving the No. 7 GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport, will be making her final IndyCar Series start Sunday as a full-time driver in the series. Graham Rahal is second fastest (222.869) and Scott Dixon is third (222.770).
12:25 p.m. – Today’s first IndyCar Series practice session ended after a lengthy delay due to track cleanup because of oil on the track. Charlie Kimball (222.854), Ed Carpenter (222.375) and Simona De Silvestro (221.847) were the three fastest in the first session.
The 17 drivers taking part in Group Two are on the track for their practice session. Series points leader Dario Franchitti and second-place Will Power, who are battling for the series championship, are among the drivers in Group Two.
11:30 a.m. – Midway through the first practice session, Ed Carpenter still sits atop the speed chart but he increased his fastest lap to 222.375 mph. Wade Cunningham was second at 221.648 mph and Charlie Kimball was third at 221.172.
Dan Wheldon, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and the only driver eligible for the $5 million GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge, was fourth fastest at 221.051. Wheldon, who will start Sunday’s IndyCar World Championships from the back of the field, will split a $5 million prize with a fan if he can win Sunday’s race
11:10 a.m. – Ten minutes into today’s first IndyCar Series practice session, Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher Racing) has posted the fastest lap among the 17 cars in Group One with a lap at 220.335 mph. Wade Cunningham (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) also topped the 220-mph mark with a lap at 220.053. The two hour-long sessions split the 34-car field into groups of 17 cars.
The LVMS track record for Indy-style cars is 226.491 mph – set in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk. Luyendyk sat on the pole for the inaugural race at LVMS but hometown favorite Richie Hearn went on to win the race.
10:55 a.m. – Stefan Wilson of Andretti Autosport posted the fastest lap during this morning’s practice session for the Firestone Indy Lights series. Wilson topped the speed chart with a lap of 193.552 mph. Gustavo Yacaman (Team Moore Racing) was second fastest at 193.289 mph and Esteban Guerrieri of Sam Schmidt Motorsports was third at 192.971 mph.
The 67-lap Firestone Indy Lights Series race will take the green flag at 9:45 a.m. Sunday.
10:30 a.m. – IZOD IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick finished fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March – the best finish by a female driver in a NASCAR national series race. On Sunday, Patrick will conclude her career as a full-time IndyCar Series driver in the IndyCar World Championships and will turn her attention to running a full Nationwide Series schedule in 2012.
Patrick, who has one career IndyCar victory and a pair of top-five finishes in the Indianapolis 500 (third in 2009 and fourth in 2005), said she is looking forward to racing here again and is hoping her Nationwide experience at LVMS will help her in Sunday’s race.
“I think this is a great track and I think we’ll put on a really close race here this weekend,” Patrick said this morning. “Even in a stock car, there’s a lot of grip here so I’m sure that means we will be three and four wide, four and five rows deep for a lot of the race. I think it’s going to be exciting and I think it’s going to be a great way to finish the season off.
“Having that little bit of experience here in a stock car, I think, will help – it definitely can’t hurt. It’s nice to end it on an oval. I still believe that our most exciting races are put on at mile-and-a-half (tracks) and we always have our closest finishes and our most side-by-side racing and our most spectacular crashes on them.
“To end (my IndyCar career) at a cool place like Vegas, as well, and also having that little bit of experience and history of being the highest-finishing female in NASCAR here earlier this year is a nice little come-around story. I’m looking forward to the weekend and I’m excited for this last race.”
9:50 a.m. – Good morning from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the opening day of on-track activity for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Smith’s 350 and IZOD IndyCar World Championships Presented by Honda.
Today’ abbreviated schedule will have the Firestone Indy Lights cars on the track for practice from 9:45-10:45 a.m. and again from 3-4 p.m. The cars of the IZOD IndyCar Series will be on the track, in two groups, for practice from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Be sure to check back here often, as we’ll be updating this blog throughout the day with news, stats and driver interviews.