Team E Racing hopes its driver, Rusty Mitchell, comes away with a winning hand in Sunday's Firestone Indy Lights season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Mitchell, a rookie this year in Firestone Indy Lights, is from Midland, Texas. That's about 400 miles from Robstown, Texas, the birthplace of Texas hold 'em poker, and Mitchell plays the game almost daily.
"I play poker live about twice a week, and on line almost every day," Mitchell said.
"Three or four years ago I made it to the final table in a World Series of Poker circuit tournament in New Orleans," Mitchell added. "I was the first one out at the final table, but I tripled my money on the buy-in. It wasn't much - a little over $100 I think - but it was fun."
Although Mitchell expects to play a little poker in Las Vegas this week, he's totally serious about his main goal while he's in town. He wants a good finish in Sunday's 67-lap Firestone Indy Lights race on the 1.5-mile oval off Exit 54 of Interstate 15, just a few miles north of The Strip. The race, which features the top step in the Mazda Road to Indy support series, is a preliminary event to the IZOD IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda later that afternoon.
The Firestone Indy Lights race is slated to get the green flag at 9:45 a.m. local time. Mitchell's Team E Racing car, No. 17, is bright blue. It carries sponsorship from Motorola and Petro Communications.
This is the first Firestone Indy Lights race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Some of the 14 drivers entered in Sunday's race have tested here in the past, but Mitchell will make his first laps at the facility during the first practice session at 9:45 a.m. Thursday morning. A second practice session is slated for 3 p.m. that day. Friday's schedule shows a third practice session at 9:45 a.m. before time trials at 2:15 p.m. Saturday is reserved for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which should give Mitchell some time to spend in the casinos before he returns to the track for Sunday morning's race.
"I've played some friendly games at night with some guys on teams before, but not yet with Team E," Mitchell said. "I'm trying to get them at a table, though!"
After a full season in Star Mazda last year Mitchell has been doing a limited schedule in Firestone Indy Lights in 2011 with Team E, a top team owned by Neil Enerson that is based in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area. Sunday's race at Las Vegas Speedway will only be Mitchell's sixth Firestone Indy Lights race ever, but Team E Racing has an excellent record on oval tracks and Mitchell himself has never finished outside of the top 10 in his seven previous oval-track starts. So far his best finishes in Firestone Indy Lights were two seventh-place finishes on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May and on the new Baltimore street course last month.
Team E won the Firestone Indy Lights race at the Milwaukee Mile in 2008 when Bobby Wilson topped 20 other competitors, including eight that went on to compete in IZOD IndyCar Series events.