This weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway is the first oval race of the season. It’s also the last race before the Indianapolis 500.

This weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway is the first oval race of the season. It’s also the last race before the Indianapolis 500.
Without much offseason testing and the practice sessions cut back at Indy this year, that’s not a lot of time to get used to driving ovals. Suddenly, Kansas has become a lot more important.
“Here is going to be great preparation because we don’t have that many days at Indy,” Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves said Friday. “It’s a way to get a rhythm, to see the small details big time in oval cars and find out what the competitors are doing. With all these things happening, you might have a little bit of a prediction of what might happen in Indy.”
Normally, the Kansas race is just another on the schedule. This year, it takes on added significance because of the way the schedule unfolded.
The Indy Racing League had just one open testing opportunity on an oval during the offseason, in Miami in February, though some teams did have private tests as well. The first two races of the IRL season, at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, were on road courses, so that was no help for the Indy 500.
Indy also has cut three practice days from the schedule, giving drivers even less preparation time for the biggest race of the year.
That means the 1.5-mile oval at Kansas Speedway is the only chance for drivers to get a feel for ovals in race conditions before the May 24 race.
“It kind of gets everyone in the rhythm of racing on an oval again,” said Graham Rahal of Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. “Indy always seems to me to be different from every other oval, but you kind of need to get used to driving in traffic again because it is so different from running on an oval than a road course. A road course can’t even come close to preparing you for what’s to come.”

PHILIPPE IN AT INDY: HVM Racing has added a second car to this year’s Indianapolis 500, adding former team driver Nelson Philippe for the May 24 race.
The 22-year-old Frenchman raced for HVM in 2006, winning the Surfers Paradise Champ Car race. He joins HVM driver E.J. Viso for the Indy 500. No sponsor for Philippe was announced.
“We are excited to have Nelson driving again for HVM Racing,” said Keith Wiggins, HVM’s team principal. “He won for us in 2006, which was quite an accomplishment for such a young driver and had his best ever season. Although coming back will be to a new Series, a new track, with huge competition and in the biggest event of the year, we will work together to achieve a good result. We always like challenges.”

HELIO’S RETURN: After being acquitted of tax evasion charges last week, Helio Castroneves thanked all the fans for the support they gave him, saying it helped him get through the difficult time.
Though he stayed away from news reports about his trial, Castroneves did hear some of the negative things people were saying about him, too.
“I did hear some of that stuff, but I never let it get to me because everybody is entitled to their opinion. You can’t control everybody,” he said. “For now, I’m just happy to be here. It was a very emotional time, especially for my family and my sister, and I’m just happy to be racing.”

PIT STOPS: Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman took a spin in an IRL two-seater on Friday, hitting 180 mph. “You could feel it suck down as soon as you hit the first straightaway. The acceleration, the speed, the precision and control the driver had — it was something to behold,” he said. ... Brian Scott had the fastest practice time for the NASCAR Camping World Trucks at 165.664 mph. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 is Saturday night.