From staff reports
As a Southerner in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, Jimmy Kite will be racing the No. 91 Ethanol/ Remy/Life Fitness Toyota-powered Dallara as close to his Stockbridge, Ga. home as he will all season when the Series makes its annual stop in Nashville Saturday.
As a result, Kite considers this weekend's Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway his "home" event.
"I know I must be pretty close to home because I'm getting calls from people I have never met asking me for tickets," Kite said. "Seriously, I'm lucky to have a lot of friends and family coming up from Georgia to watch. Since the Indy cars don't race in Atlanta or Charlotte anymore, Nashville is my home race. It should be a pretty good place for them to come and see."
The 200 lap/ 266 mile, July 16th race under the lights will be Kite's first visit to the 1.33-mile oval as he makes his 28th career IndyCar start.
For Kite and the Ron Hemelgarn-owned team, the nighttime visit to Music City, 270 miles from Kite's Georgia home, is the opportunity the team is looking for to deliver the result they have been flirting with since coming together for the Indianapolis 500.
"We're starting to find a good setup for the Ethanol/ Remy/ Life Fitness Toyota on the banked tracks and I think that is going to carry over pretty well to Nashville," Kite said. "We didn't have a chance to test here but I feel good about Saturday night. The concrete will be a little different but the last concrete track I raced one of these cars was at Dover and I loved it. I have my eyes set on that Gibson guitar they give to the winner but, honestly, we're just looking for a strong finish."
The Nashville-oval is a unique size for the Series and the concrete pavement, instead of the traditional asphalt seen elsewhere on the open wheel schedule, makes the track a wildcard for setup. Furthermore, Hemelgarn Racing won the inaugural IndyCar event held at the track in 2001 with Buddy Lazier and, in the process, set the record for most laps led by the race winner and the fastest race that has been run there.
Kite will be making his fifth IndyCar start of the season since joining Ethanol-Hemelgarn Racing in May. Since being signed as a replacement for the injured Paul Dana (St. Louis) for the "500", Kite and the Indianapolis-based team have worked to find a rhythm that will put the Toyota-powered Ethanol car at the front.
The move has been progressive since the disappointment of qualifying and finishing 32nd at Indy. More important than the statistics is the level of communication that has grown with each lap the two-time Indianapolis 500-winnning team and the 1997 USAC Silver Crown Copper World Classic champion have worked together. The combination is coming off a 13th-place finish at Richmond and a 19th at Kansas as they come south of the Mason-Dixon Line for the final time this season.
While Kite is definitely focused on his upcoming race, he has expressed concern about Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was severely damaged last week as Tropical Storm Cindy raged through the area.
"Our thoughts are definitely with everyone at Atlanta Motor Speedway," Kite said. "They got hit pretty hard by a storm the other night and that track has meant so much in my career it is almost like it hitting my house. I know Ed Clark and his whole group will have everything ready to go for the NASCAR weekend but they have a heck of a job in front of them. We're all thinking about them."
The Firestone Indy 200 can be seen live on ESPN at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 16.
On the web - www.JimmyKite.com, www.JimmyKiteFans.com, www.TeamMRD.com, www.HemelgarnRacing.com.