By Konnie McCollum
(August 2006) When the IndyCar Series comes into Sparta, Ky., for the Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Secret, it will pit two rookie drivers against each other in their continued race for the seasons top rookie honors.
Andretti Green Racings Marco Andretti, who drives the No. 26 NYSE Group Honda-powered Dallara, is eighth in the IndyCar Series point standings after finishing sixth at the July 22-23 Milwaukee Mile.
Above photo by Mike Harding/IRL; Photo below by Shawn Payne/IRL
Marco Andretti, above, and Jeff Simmons, below are neck-and-neck in the race for top IndyCar rookie honors.
Rahal Letterman Racings Jeff Simmons, who drives the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol-powered Dallara, posted a ninth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile, his third-consecutive top-10 finish. Simmons is 17th in the IndyCar Series point standings.
Both drivers are eligible for the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award, which is given to the rookie that scores the most points in the season. Andretti leads Simmons in the point standings 226-131 with four races remaining.
Simmons is a graduate of the Indy Pro Series. He finished in that series in both 2003 and 2005, and hes tied with Thiago Medeiros and Mark Taylor in all-time victories with seven.
He started the year in the Indy Pro Series by winning the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, then moved up to the IndyCar Series at Twin Ring Motegi in April. After a rough start, hes finished in the top 10 in the last three races, including a career-best seventh at Nashville Superspeedway.
During a late July media teleconference, Simmons said his transition up to the IndyCar Series was a bit rough, mainly because of his lack of pre-season testing. I think it was all a lot more difficult without having the pre-season testing and any testing, really.
He also admitted that he had made some rookie mistakes in the first couple of races and then just experienced some plain bad luck and unfortunate situations.
Things seemed to have changed for him, however, because he now has three consecutive top-10 finishes. I think weve been able to put all that behind us now.
He believes his turnaround may be due to more seat time and then the switch from running the Panoz to the Dallara.
Like Simmons, Andretti started out the season finishing in the back of the pack during the first three races. But since then, hes established himself as a contender for race wins beginning with a second place finish in the Indianapolis 500. Recently, Andretti has had four consecutive top-10 finishes, including two top-fives.
Andretti also said that some of the problems in the first races were due to rookie mistakes. Thats what rookie years are for. Its tough, and its no fun to learn the hard way, but thats the best way you can learn.
The IndyCar Series will continue Aug. 13 with its 12th of 14 races, this one at the Kentucky Speedway. The green flag is scheduled to drop at 4 p.m. The Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Secret will be a 300-mile, 200-lap IRL event.
The Indy Pro Series will race at noon that day in the Kentucky 100, a 100-mile, 67-lap race.