NASCAR

Ryan Briscoe pleased with IndyCar test at Texas

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IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe was pleased with the progress of the new car following a test this week at Texas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe worked with fellow Chevrolet driver Tony Kanaan during the session to help IndyCar set the rules package for an upcoming open test at the speedway. The series scheduled the March 13 test to give teams an opportunity to drive the new Dallara DW12 on the high-banked oval - a concern following the death last October of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas.

''What we are trying to avoid is a pack race situation like we had in Las Vegas,'' Briscoe said. ''We feel like this car is safer, but we still want to make sure we avoid pack racing, and we've got a couple of different options that are going to make the car more difficult to drive.''

Briscoe also praised the handling of the new car, and said it had improved tremendously since he tested it in November at Fontana.

''It was a little bit of a handful the last time I drove it, and it feels like normal now,'' Briscoe said. ''The balance feels really good.''

But, he said the car was 3-to-4 mph slower than the pole-winning speed of 215.186 mph in last year's race.

Meanwhile, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said the apron in Turns 1 and 2 at the track had been paved in response to IndyCar driver's complaints that the surface was too rough. He's heard drivers express concern about the fencing at Texas, which like Las Vegas has its poles on the inside of the mesh wiring. Wheldon was killed when his head hit the post at Las Vegas.

But Gossage and track owner Bruton Smith are adamant the design of the fencing is safe. However, if IndyCar officials would like to add support cables to the existing fence, Gossage would be amenable.

''Our engineers have told us that the design we currently have is what they recommend,'' Gossage said. ''If IndyCar wants to add some cables, we'll be happy to do that. We are all for making it safer.''

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PHOENIX RETURN?: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard met Thursday with the president of Phoenix International Raceway, presumably to discuss the series' potential return to the desert track.

The meeting between Bernard and Bryan Sperber occurred a day after Panther Racing tested the new car on Phoenix's new configuration. PIR hosted IndyCar races from 1996 through 2005, and USAC and CART ran at the track from 1964 until 1995.

JR Hildebrand turned 114 laps over four hours at Phoenix and offered a strong recommendation that IndyCar return to Phoenix.

''They've done a great job with the facility at Phoenix, and for the Indy cars it could really lend itself to good racing,'' Hildebrand said. ''We were able to get down to business really quickly in the test and the track is much smoother; the repaving was really well done. The variable banking works well with the car and I honestly think it could be possible that there would be a usable second lane.

''If IndyCar wants to come back and race here, I'd put my stamp on it.''

David Cripps, technical director for Panther, said the new configuration and racing surface was ''one of the most consistent and smoothest I have ever seen. I'd race here tomorrow, no question.''

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SHANK STILL PLUGGING ALONG: Michael Shank has not given up on his attempt to field a car for a full IndyCar season this year.

But, Shank knows time is running out to get to next month's season-opener at St. Petersburg.

''I'm coming to grips with how difficult this is, but we're still alive and I'm still trying,'' Shank said Thursday. ''I didn't anticipate it would be this difficult to get a team started, but I've not given up.''

Shank was at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday to watch AJ Allmendinger race in the Daytona 500 qualifying race. Allmendinger was part of Shank's winning team at last month's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona sports car race, and the two have partnered on the IndyCar effort Shank announced last October.

When he announced his team, Shank indicated he'd partner with Lotus, but the engine maker has told him it likely can't get him a motor in time for the season-opening race. And, sponsorship that would have put driver Paul Tracy in the car for a final IndyCar season fell apart. Coupled with the exclusion from the series' Leader's Circle program, the celebration on the Daytona victory was short-lived for Shank.

''It was a definitely a kick in the gut,'' said Shank. ''We were at an all-time high, and now we're dealing with the difficulties of being a new team trying to get a program going in the series.''

Shank has already spent $1 million out of pocket, and is in possession of a new Dallara. He said he'll most definitely be entered in the Indianapolis 500, but his main goal is to run the entire season.

''We've got the car in the shop and the people we need to go run the car, but at this point we are still working to have the full budget in place to go racing,'' said Shank. ''I don't want to be in a position to just go out and make up the numbers. We want to show up and have a competitive presence.''

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