The increasingly crowded path that leads from open-wheel racing to stock-car racing will travel through Talladega Superspeedway on Friday, as two open-wheel veterans make their stock-car debuts in the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250.
Dario Franchitti, winner of this year's Indianapolis 500, and former Formula One regular Scott Speed are among the 43 drivers expected to compete in the 94-lap race, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. CDT.
The ARCA race is the first step toward an expected move to fulltime NASCAR racing for Speed, while it provides valuable superspeedway experience for Franchitti, who recently signed a multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. And despite their years of motorsports experience, they both know that they still have a lot to learn about stock-car racing.
"It's so different to sit in this car," said Franchitti, who qualified sixth for Friday's race. "It's going to be difficult. I have nothing to go on. I just have no idea what to even ask. I think all those years of learning to drive different cars is going to help, but it's a very, very different car than what I've ever driven before."
Speed, who qualified seventh, feels the same way about his situation.
"I come from a completely different world of racing, so there's no doubt it's going to be a challenge learning how these cars handle," Speed said. "But I'm ready to get out there and see what I've got."
The race is also important for a pair of ARCA RE/MAX Series regulars. Frank Kimmel, a 19-year ARCA veteran who is seeking his ninth series championship, has a 140-point lead over ARCA rookie Michael McDowell with two races remaining on the 2007 schedule. Both drivers have won three times this season. Kimmel has 15 top-10 finishes while McDowell has 14.
"This (race) is going to be a big deciding factor, depending on how we come out of here," said McDowell, who qualified 11th. "(Kimmel) is not going to make a lot of mistakes. So for us it's just about keeping pressure on him and being up in the top-five during the race."
While the points battle is his primary concern, Kimmel admits he also is excited about the presence of Franchitti and Speed in the field.
"This is probably going to be the most competitive race we've ever had here," said Kimmel, who qualified ninth. "What a neat deal for the ARCA RE/MAX Series and Talladega to have such great names in this race. I'm just excited to get to go out and race with those guys. They're going to be in great race cars and they're going to run really fast.
"It's neat that they bring those guys to this race. It makes it tough when you go out and race against them, but it makes it really sweet when you beat them."
Prior to the running of the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250, qualifying will be held beginning at 12:10 p.m. CDT for the Mountain Dew 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. This will be only the second NCTS race held at Talladega Superspeedway. Mark Martin won the inaugural Truck Series event at Talladega last year.
Qualifying will be especially important for Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday Jr. The two drivers are separated by only three points at the top of the NCTS standings with six races remaining. It is the closest margin this late in the season in Truck Series history.
Children age 11 and younger will be admitted free of charge with a ticketed adult in the general admission grandstands area for all of Friday's activities, including the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying and the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250 race. Tickets are still available to the UAW-Ford 500 event weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, which includes the ARCA RE/MAX Series 250 race on Friday, the Mountain Dew 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday and the UAW-Ford 500, race four in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup on Sunday. Tickets may be ordered by calling 1-877- Go2-DEGA, by logging onto www.racetickets.com, and are also available for purchase on-site at the Talladega
Superspeedway Ticket Office located on Speedway Boulevard at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.