- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2008

RICHMOND | With more cars than ever in the field and half of them making their first visit to the smallest oval the series races, John Andretti expects Saturday night’s IndyCar Series race at Richmond International Raceway to be a physical drain.

Counting Andretti, whose 20-plus previous starts on the 0.75-mile oval have all come in NASCAR, 14 of the 26 drivers in the SunTrust Indy Challenge will be on the track for the first time in an open-wheel race car, and most of them only visited for the first time Thursday.

Andretti Green Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti will start on the front row.

Kanaan posted a four-lap average of 167.876 mph on the 0.75-mile oval, the shortest run by the series. Andretti’s average speed was 167.795 mph. The pole is the 10th of Kanaan’s career and second this season.

But Andretti doesn’t think 26 cars is too many and compared the track to Bristol Motor Speedway, which is host to two NASCAR Sprint Cup races with 43 cars in the field.

“I think it’s OK,” he said Friday. “We’ll see tomorrow night.”

Throw in the addition of 50 laps to this year’s event and temperatures in the mid-90s during the day, and Andretti still expects a grueling test when the green flag falls at 8 p.m.

“Three hundred laps around Richmond, I think, is going to be tough,” he said.

The laps click by quickly, in an average of about 15 seconds.

“A lot of G loading,” Andretti said. “You sort of lay up against the side of the car and hope the car is going to do the work, because there’s no power steering in these Indy cars.

“The steering gets real heavy.”

Andretti and the other drivers new to Richmond’s D-shaped layout were allowed to practice on the track Thursday, and the experience left Oriol Servia somewhat anxious.

“I can see that the race must be really tough in traffic because on your own already everything is narrow, and you already have issues getting your marks,” he said. “I can only imagine how it’s going to be like with 26 cars and dirty air and this and that.”

Series veterans also have new things to be concerned about heading into the race.

Fuel strategy, for example.

“Is this a no-brainer, you must stop three times, or is this a save fuel and stop two times kind of a race?” Danica Patrick said she asked fellow driver Dan Wheldon this week.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking like that,” she said.

Track position also will be key, she said, because of the expanded field. The previous highest number of cars at Richmond was 22, and only 19 were in the race last summer.

The potential for crowding makes being fast especially critical.

“You need to be ready to pass because there’s a lot of passing anyway on the race weekends here with only 18 cars,” Patrick said. “And with another eight or so of us, there’s going to be even more, so you’re going to need to make sure that that car is good for the race.”

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