Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Penske taps Hornish to replace de Ferran

The Associated Press

Two-time defending IRL champion Sam Hornish will drive next season for Team Penske, which also announced Monday that Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran will retire at the end of this year.

"The opportunity to drive for the most successful open-wheel team in history and to follow in the footsteps of the organization's remarkable driver lineage, including Gil, is an honor," Hornish said.

With Helio Castroneves' win Sunday at Nazareth Speedway, Penske cars have 118 open-wheel victories - including 13 in the Indianapolis 500 - and 11 national championships, all records.

Hornish holds some himself. In 2001, at 22, he became the youngest champion of a major open-wheel series. Last year, he became the only two-time champion of the 7-year-old IRL series. This season, he broke the record for career victories with his ninth.

"Sam is a great fit for the team both on and off the track and we are confident we will achieve great success together," Penske said.

Hornish announced last week that he was leaving Panther Racing, for whom he won his IRL titles. The driver from Defiance, Ohio, said he wanted to continue to compete in the Indy 500, but also stated a desire to race in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 - NASCAR's biggest events. Moving to Penske gives him that opportunity.

The team also fields cars in Winston Cup for Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace.

Brazilians de Ferran and two-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves helped rebuild Penske's team, which slumped badly in the late 1990s. De Ferran gave Penske the last two of his nine CART championships when he won titles in 2000 and 2001. Penske moved the team to the IRL last season.

JUNIOR'S STATUS: While Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not signed a contract to drive for Dale Earnhardt Inc. through the 2007 season, his sister and business manager said that Earnhardt Jr. has "no issues with his team" and has no plans to drive anywhere else.

"The whole thing is way overblown," said Kelley Earnhardt, who as business manager for JR Motorsports has been part of the contract talks with DEI. "There is a verbal agreement and 95 percent of the deal is worked out. There are just a few things Dale Jr. and Teresa (Earnhardt, Dale Jr.'s stepmother) need to work out."

K. EARNHARDT GETS A SHOT: Richard Childress is in the process of preparing a car for Kerry Earnhardt, Dale's son and half-brother to Earnhardt Jr., to drive in selected Winston Cup events.

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Penske taps Hornish to replace de Ferran

Yzerman returns for 21st season with Detroit

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