Andrettis set for Indy 500 | NevadaAppeal.com

Andrettis set for Indy 500

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope that you were all good little gearheads, and that Santa filled your stocking with your fondest wishes, whether that is a new set of wheels for your racecar or tickets to the Daytona 500.

The Andretti Family got their fondest wish, as the Indy 500 will see a father/son Andretti duo at the Brickyard in 2006. No, Mario is not coming out of retirement, but Michael will get behind the wheel for one more try at that elusive Indy victory.

He will be joined by his 18 year old son Marco, who will replace Dan Wheldon for the full season at Andretti-Green Racing. Marco, a three-time race winner in the Infiniti Pro Series, will drive the No. 26 ArcaEx sponsored car and Michael will be aboard the Jim Beam-sponsored car for Indy, with the Vonage phone provider joining as a co-title sponsor. Teammate Dario Franchitti will wheel a Klein Tools and Jim Beam-sponsored car for Andretti-Green Racing.

What possessed Michael, winning car owner of the 2005 Indy victor, to return to the cockpit? Maybe it’s the tremendous team he has put together.

“I think I’ll have as good a shot as I’ve ever had to win the Indianapolis 500, and I think I can also be a big help to Marco as he gets ready to make his first ‘500’ start.”

The Andretti family has been snake bitten at Indy, with only one victory, Mario’s 1969 win, to show for their efforts. Michael has led more laps at the Indy 500 than any non-winner of the race.

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1994 was the last time a father-son Andretti team ran the Indy 500, and 2006 will be the first time a winning car owner has defended the title from the cockpit. So whether the Indy Racing League can muster a full field of 33 cars or not, there will be something for the racing press to write about.

Rusty Wallace has had his “last call” and hung up his helmet. Or has he? It appears that Rusty has merely changed venues. Wallace joined Grand-Am series regulars Butch Leitzinger and Elliot Forbes-Robinson last week for a test session in a Pontiac Crawford Daytona Prototype at Daytona, in preparation for racing in the Rolex 24 in late January.

“This has been in my plans for over a year and a half, and since I’ve never even seen one of these cars before, I wanted to come down and work the bugs out to really understand what I’m doing when I come back for the test in January,” said Wallace.

Recent years have seen more and more of the NASCAR drivers come out to play on the Daytona road course for the 24 hour race, with the most impressive performances to date belonging to newly crowned Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart. Wallace’s teammates have not been named.

“We’ve got a host of people that want to run with me,” Wallace said. “We want to put two hot-shot road racers in with me. We’ll do four drivers, myself and three others.”

With Wallace moving from stock cars to sports cars, it appears that Champ Car veteran and former champion Paul Tracy is finally ready to make the move from open-wheel cars to stock cars. Although he has contracted to race for Forsythe Racing in CART for 2006, he also plans to run a limited schedule in ARCA, Busch, and possibly a few Nextel Cup starts. A deal to run a Childress Racing Cup car at Michigan in 2005 didn’t come off, but Tracy hasn’t let that setback discourage him.

“My game plan was to make transition in ’06 but it really didn’t come together . . . My timetable is to be in NASCAR in ’07,” said Tracy.

He revealed that he is close to an 11-race deal with the Biagi Brothers Busch team for 2006, with races to be run on his “off” weekends at Champ Car.

Finally, Travis Kvapil, who lost his Nextel Cup ride when sponsor Kodak pulled out and Penske Racing shelved the No. 77 team for 2006, has found a home. The former Craftsman Truck champion will take over driving duties for the No. 32 PPI Motorsports entry, replacing Bobby Hamilton Jr.