NASCAR

Panther Racing hoping to end runner-up streak

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

Panther Racing owner John Barnes would still like to celebrate in Indianapolis' Victory Lane some day.

For now, he's OK with being second.

Barnes' team has won 15 races and two IndyCar titles since joining the series, but over the last four years, Barnes' team has been better known for what it hasn't been able to do - win the 500. The four straight runner-up finishes are a record at the 2.5-mile oval.

''If we won, it would mean that we had reached the top. You know it is the Super Bowl of motorsports in the world,'' Barnes said. ''It would mean we'd be able to accomplish another rung on the ladder, but you know I'm OK with the rung I'm on.''

Those who compare Barnes' close calls at Indy to the Buffalo Bills' four straight Super Bowl losses don't understand the motivation behind Barnes.

He has been a huge IndyCar fan since he first started attending races with his father. By 1968, he was sweeping garage floors.

Then, in 1998, Barnes and a local contingent of owners put together their own team. The best-known member of the ownership group is Jim Harbaugh, the former Colts quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers coach.

It didn't take long for Barnes' team to become a force in the series.

Scott Goodyear gave the team its first victory in 1999 at Phoenix and its first pole in 2000 at Kentucky. Future Indy winner Sam Hornish Jr. took back-to-back points titles in 2001 and 2002, and though Panther has struggled to break through against better-funded teams like Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi and Andretti Autosport over the past decade, Barnes' team has remained competitive enough to nearly win Indy in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The closest he came to winning was last year when JR Hildebrand had to get through one more turn and safely down the final straightaway. Instead, blocked by the slower car of Charlie Kimball, Hildebrand tried to pass Kimball on the high side and wound up hitting the wall. He skidded across the yard of bricks in, of course, second.

''When we finished second last year, people said `You've got to be disappointed,''' Barnes said. ''But you know, we beat 31 other cars and Dan (Wheldon) won the race. We were happy for Dan and for Bryan (Herta, the team owner). We've just been so blessed to be in that (runner-up) position.''

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CHANGES: Chassis-manufacturer Dallara has changed the underwing supports of the new Indy cars to create more vertical stiffness.

Testing earlier this week demonstrated that the stiffness could contribute to the car lifting slightly off the track, as it did three times during last weekend's qualifying.

The hope is that the change will make the cars safer.

All cars will have the modification in place for Carb Day.

Series officials also announced Thursday that it had released new aerokit regulations to manufacturers. All interested manufacturers must commit to the new program by Friday for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

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DOUBLE DUTY: Andretti Autosport driver Sabastian Saavedra may be the busiest man in Indy this weekend.

On Thursday, he had to practice and qualify for the Freedom 100. Then he rushed over for the 500 media day. On Friday, he'll have one final practice run in his Indy car, compete in the Indy Lights race and then try to map out a strategy for Sunday's 500.

That's life for the Indy Lights points leader.

''It's crazy,'' the Colombian driver said. ''There are so many things going on at the same time. You just need to understand what's good and what's bad so you don't get burned out.''

Saavedra qualified 10th in the 19-car Freedom 100 field and will start 24th in the 500. If he can pull off both, he'd be the first driver to win both May races at the Brickyard and add another chapter to Colombia's growing legacy of IndyCar drivers.

''I told myself Roberto Guerrero had the pole position here and Juan Pablo (Montoya) won the race here, so what do I have to do to outdo them? Win both,'' Saavedra said.

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GETTING TOUGH: A year ago, Switzerland's Simona de Silvestro became an Indy favorite when she courageously qualified on Pole Day with burned hands.

This year, de Silvestro's speeds haven't been nearly as good, but she's proven to be just as tough.

Points leader Will Power acknowledges that her struggles are the result of Lotus' sub-par engines, not because of anything de Silvestro has done on the track. She'll start Sunday's race 32nd, after posting a four-lap qualifying average of 214.393 - more than 12 mph off the pole-winning car of Power's teammate, Ryan Briscoe.

Which predicament was tougher?

''Last year was really tough, really tough because there was more to overcome,'' she said. ''There was more frustration this year, but I think I have a pretty good race car.''

Fans don't seem to care about how she's performing this year, either. She's still being mobbed for autographs and photos each time she walks through Gasoline Alley.

''I think they're still the same from last year,'' de Silvestro said. ''I just feel bad that I can't run up front for them.''

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RIGHT FORMULA: Brazil's Rubens Barrichello insists he didn't come to IndyCars to try to get back into Formula One.

But should an F1 team come calling after this season, well, Barrichello would certainly listen.

''Would I go back? Oh yes,'' he said. ''But I enjoy it here and I'm not worrying what people think or what they say.''

Barrichello is starting 10th in his first Indy 500.

Yes, he acknowledges his oval has been a challenge and that he's learned plenty during the two weeks here with more lessons to come race day. But there's one piece of advice he may never forget.

''I got a text from Dario (Franchitti) saying to come to his bus, so I went over there, and Dario told me `Don't ever touch the white line, that's dangerous, that's what NASCAR does,''' Barrichello said.

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BULLDOG BITE: Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens and two bulldogs were at the track Thursday to celebrate the school's first appearance on an Indy car.

The Butler logo will appear as secondary sponsor on Ed Carpenter's car, No. 20. Carpenter is a Butler alum, whom Stevens has gotten to know through the years.

For Stevens, the 500 still holds a special place in his heart.

''I grew up listening to the radio broadcast, and it's one of the few sporting events I listen to on the radio. I really enjoy it,'' Stevens said. ''I used to say that it was the 500 in the morning and the Pacers at night, so I was a little disappointed they moved the Pacers game to Saturday night instead of Sunday night.''

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FREEDOM QUALIFYING: Another Colombian, Gustavo Yacaman, claimed the pole for the Freedom 100 on Thursday with a speed of 187.517 mph. Brazil's Victor Carbone will start second after going 187.166, and Colombia's Carlos Munoz will start third. Munoz's 187.009 was the only other qualifying speed to top 187 mph.

The top American starter will be Brandon Wagner of Lafayette, Ind. He will start sixth Friday after going 186.419.

The Freedom 100 will be run Friday during the traditional Carb Day ceremonies.

Tagged: Sam Hornish Jr.

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