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IndyCar uncertain future at Texas Motor Speedway

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FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - With no deal in place for IndyCar to return to Texas Motor Speedway in 2013, Saturday night's 24th race could be the last for the series.

Texas has been on IndyCar's schedule for 16 consecutive years, and its race crowd is second only to the Indianapolis 500. But the relationship between the series and track promoter Eddie Gossage has been strained lately because of a variety of different issues, some financially related and some over safety concerns drivers have raised with the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said Saturday he's made a point of not discussing 2013 with Texas until after Saturday night's race, but said, "We definitely want to come back if it's financially worthwhile."

Bernard added that drivers _ concerned about the compatibility of Indy cars on high-banked ovals following Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas in October _ won't influence whether or not the series returns to Texas.

"We want input from team owners, drivers, sponsors and fans and our partners," he said. "I want to hear what their opinion is after (Saturday), but I want to also see how the schedule is laying out and what makes sense."

Bernard has already announced a street race in Houston for next season, and said there's "a tremendous amount of interest" from promoters in Austin. Gossage doesn't like the series racing in other Texas cities, arguing it pulls away from his fan base.

"Eddie doesn't call me and tell me how many NASCAR events he's going to have, or how many races he's going to have here, and it's none of my business," Bernard said. "My business is IndyCar and I think Eddie is a great partner, but let's be honest, it's two different markets. If you look at our crossover with the audience on ovals, it's 67 percent crossover with NASCAR. When you look at road and street, it's a different demographic."

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HERTA'S HONDA: Alex Tagliani has gone from being unable to finish races to feeling as if Bryan Herta Motorsports is capable of winning at any time.

"Since we got back with Honda, we are a threat pretty much every weekend," said Taglianai, who started on the pole Saturday night. "I feel good, I said that our championship was going to start at Indy."

After starting the season with Lotus, Tagliani was 17th in the opener but didn't finish the next two races because of engine problems. He didn't even complete a lap at Barber.

BHA skipped the IndyCar race in Brazil and switched back to Honda for the Indianapolis 500, where Taglianai finished all 200 laps and was in 12th place. He was 10th last week at Belle Isle after qualifying third.

"We had an amazing car at Indy, kind of flew under the radar after the pit penalty," Tagliani said. "But we passed every car all the way to the leader, fought to get our lap back with the Ganassi cars, and then got to back to the end of the pack and then all the way to 12 again."

When asked if Honda had a distinct advantage, Tagliani responded, "it looks that way. ... We believe we're in the best of what's been happening since the beginning of the year."

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GOING TO CHINA?: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said he's close to resolving both the August race in China _ he has admitted it may not happen, and suggested an answer "could be three or four days" away _ and whether or not the series will move forward with its plans to introduce aero kits next season.

Team owners are vehemently against the aero kits, citing additional costs.

Although Bernard has pushed for the aero kits and has deposits from three unidentified manufacturers, he seems to have cooled on them since a meeting last weekend at Belle Isle with the team owners. He cited the strong competition with the new Dallara DW12 through six races this year as reason to hold off on aero kits.

"This car has raced so well this year, is the aero kit that important?" he asked.

As for China, Bernard said he has an option if the race is scrapped, but it would likely become the new season finale. California on Sept. 15 is currently the scheduled finale, a spot it inherited when IndyCar canceled Las Vegas after Wheldon's death.

"There is a possibility of that, I am not ruling that out," Bernard said, adding track president Gillian Zucker has inquired about the schedule.

"Unfortunately, until we have resolution on this, I've been very careful. I think Gillian has done a great job promoting and I want to make sure she has a very successful event."

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CONWAY CHANGES: Mike Conway earned his best qualifying spot on an oval, but will start 18th instead of eighth because of a 10-spot grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change in A.J. Foyt's No. 14 car.

The team opted to change the engine before it reached its 1,850-mile rotation schedule due this weekend.

Conway also had a new fueler for Saturday night's race.

Fueler Rodney Klausmeyer suffered second-degree burns to his right hand during practice Friday when fuel spilled out because of a malfunction with the hose that popped out of its connector. The fuel caught fire when it came in contact with the hot exhaust headers.

Klausmeyer was treated at the track's infield hospital and released.

Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro also had 10-spot grid penalties.

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SPARKPLUGS: Fan Force United has signed USAC standout Bryan Clauson to drive in Indy Lights races as Milwaukee and Iowa the next two weekends. Clauson finished 30th in the Indianapolis 500 last month. ... The primary sponsor of Tony Kananan's car, Mouser Electronics, has its global headquarters in Mansfield, Texas, which is only about 40 miles from Texas Motor Speedway. Kanaan visited the headquarters during the week, and several hundred Mouser employees attended the race.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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