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IndyCar on the cusp of new chassis decision for 2012 season

NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- The future of the IZOD IndyCar Series continues to take shape and in less than a month we will know what the high-speed machines of the future look like.

When IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard announced the ICONIC Advisory Committee to determine the new car and engine formula that will lead the IndyCar Series into the future, beginning in 2012, he set June 30 as the deadline to have that package announced. The engine platform was announced earlier this month and the committee continues to review the number of chassis options that have been presented.

"We'll be close but for sure, no more than a month from now we will be done," Bernard said. "It's been very important that technology, relevance, innovations, speed, safety and green are all key attributes to the new car. What has been unbelievable to me is to have seven experts with seven different opinions when they came in, and after doing the research and seeing our demographics and what is important to the fans, we have seen this huge funnel of ideas to now we have decisions made in unison. It has been remarkable to me to see how they are making well thought out decisions."

While such chassis manufacturers as Dallara, Lola, Swift and BAT have all submitted their designs of what the car should be, DeltaWing has fueled the debate among the spectators because of its radical design.

"I think DeltaWing has done an unbelievable amount of buzz to the sport," Bernard said. "It has created a lot of creative thinking and that shouldn't be taken lightly. Chip Ganassi is an innovator and wants to see this series moving forward."

Bernard would like to see cost containment with the new design, but does not want that to take away from other key areas for the car. He doesn't want to put a "cheaply made" product on the race course.

"It's our job to make sure that we minimize costs as much as we can without cheapening the sport," Bernard said. "This is the pinnacle of open-wheel racing and we have to keep it at that level. We have to keep safety as an important element of it and keep the competition and speed there. If we can do that while saving money that is a benefit to everybody. But if you can't, you cannot allow the sport to not be the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in North America."

Gearheads see the new car as a tremendous opportunity to bring innovation back to the sport, but Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske, cautioned against getting carried away with that philosophy.

"We've had different cars, we've had different engines in this series and all that competition," Cindric said. "If that is what it takes to take a positive attitude toward IndyCar racing, the combination of promoting the drivers and the personalities that we have are the ingredients. We've had competition with engines and we've had competition with cars and that hasn't moved the needle for IndyCar racing."

Bernard also has some business decisions to formulate other than the new car. One key point is the relationship with the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), which has many of its facilities on the IndyCar schedule but has often been criticized for a perceived lack of promotion for the IndyCar events. ISC is owned and controlled by the France family, which also owns and controls rival sanctioning body NASCAR.

"I have a good relationship with ISC but it has to be in the best interests of ISC and IndyCar and what we are determining right now is what is in the best interest for both parties," Bernard said. "IndyCar has to give them a product to market, No. 1. For me to say that they don't do a good job marketing, that would be taking the lazy way out. We have to do everything we can to make sure we have a competitive series that fans want to see.

"Ask me that in one year."

Bernard also hinted some new sponsors could join the series.

"We will have a new sponsor in the next couple of weeks," he said. "We will continue to move forward with a marketing strategy and long-term and short-term business plan in place by Sept. 15. That and the schedule will be the next two top priorities."

Iowa Speedway has been a tremendous facility for the IndyCar Series because it is located in a state with little sporting competition. The "big fish in a small pond" theory works well for IndyCar at Iowa but Bernard said it takes a variety of venues to hit the target audience.

"Our overall strategy that we need to play on is IndyCar is much more," Bernard said. "You reach a significant amount of NASCAR fans with the ovals but look at what you can do with St. Pete and Long Beach and the road courses. You are reaching a more lifestyle, youthful, social audience and that is very important. Look at how many people came to Iowa Speedway. These are passionate, devoted fans and it lets me see that this sport has never left the Midwest and that should be an important part of our long-term strategy.

"There are a lot of devoted fans here and that is what I love. These fans know who every driver is when we come to Iowa."

And that is a tremendous boost for a racing series that once ruled America as the No. 1 form of auto racing but has since yielded that status to NASCAR.

But with some fresh, forward-thinking, IndyCar is ready to race into the future.

More short ovals on the schedule could take the IndyCar Series a long way.

New Hampshire will be announced to the 2011 IndyCar Series schedule later this week at a press conference during NASCAR race weekend. It will mark the return of IndyCar racing to that track for the first time since 1998 -- a race won by current NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. The IndyCar Series race will be held on July 31, 2011.

Sunday's Iowa Corn Indy 250 was one of the best races of the season and that is because of the unique characteristics that come with high-speed IndyCars racing around a track less than one-mile in length. Combine that with a Firestone tire compound that would change throughout the course of a fuel run, aerodynamic changes from last year that allowed better-side-by-side racing and a "Push-to-Pass" button that gives the cars an extra kick of horsepower and Sunday's race was the best yet. It featured 16 lead changes among seven drivers with some of the racing side-by-side battles for the lead.

Last year the IndyCar Series had three short ovals on the schedule but when the Milwaukee Mile fell into ownership problems and Richmond International Raceway dropped IndyCar from its track last season, it left just Iowa Speedway as the lone short oval the schedule.

"Guys making it three wide and I'm as guilty of it as anybody. After they started doing it to me, I had to do it to others. There are some things that I'm not proud of that I did today; certainly with Martin (Truex, Jr.). I mean, I completely messed that up and I will try to patch that up. Other things that happened out there were just really hard racing incidents.

"Kurt Busch had everything coming to him that I gave him because he gave it to me on the restart before that, so I don't feel sorry about that. I certainly do with Martin. With Elliott (Sadler), I feel bad. I was racing him hard, he was blocking me but we were trying to race somebody else too but that was probably my fault as well. There was a lot of that going on out there. I got a little frustrated because we had a good race car and we got shuffled there a little bit on some of those restarts and we were playing catch-up from that point on." -- Jeff Gordon explaining his aggressive nature late in the NASCAR Sprint cup race at Infineon Raceway on Sunday that led to some hot tempers and hard feelings afterwards.

"It was a little more aggressive than normal, but it was fun." -- NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya on Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Infineon Raceway.

As if there isn't enough Danica Patrick already, her return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time since Feb. 27 will put plenty of focus on Saturday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Expect to see a mob of media converge on the sleepy town of Loudon for that one, but I'll simply be watching it on TV. What I'm really looking forward to is a chance for my White Sox to sweep the Cubs at US Cellular Field in Chicago this weekend, proving once and again that the best baseball team in Chicago is on the South Side of town.

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