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After Kansas, team will decide future

7/2/2004

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jeff Simmons, a two-time champion in
the Barber Dodge Pro Series, was tapped Friday to replace the
retired Al Unser Jr. for Sunday's Indy Racing League event at
Kansas Speedway.

Patrick Racing owner Pat Patrick wouldn't commit to any plans
for the No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet beyond Sunday's Argent Mortgage
300, however.

"After careful consideration and extensive research, we made
the decision that the best thing for our team was to go with a
young, aggressive driver,'' Patrick said in a news release.
"Following the Kansas race, we will evaluate all of our options
and make a decision for the future.''

Former CART driver Townsend Bell will make his IRL debut Sunday
for Panther Racing, which parted ways with rookie Mark Taylor
earlier this week.

"I'm not going to say how long it's for, but the intention is
to build a future with the team,'' Bell said Friday.

The spot at Patrick Racing opened Wednesday with the retirement
of Unser, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He is staying
on as a consultant.

"You can't replace a legend,'' Simmons said. "The legend
always lives on. I'm fortunate to have the chance to benefit from
being able to work with him and learn from him.

"I obviously want to establish myself, but to get some help
from Al will be great.''

Simmons won his Dodge Pro Series titles in 1998 and 1999 and is
that circuit's only two-time champion. Last year, he finished
second in the developmental Menards Infiniti Pro Series.

"I'm just thrilled to be working with Pat Patrick and with
Patrick Racing,'' he said. "They've been around for decades. They
were winning the Indianapolis 500 before I was born.''

This is the second time this year he has made an IRL start on
short notice. He made his debut at the Indianapolis 500, getting a
ride with Mo Nunn Racing the day before final qualifications, and
finished 16th.

"This is a little bit like Indy,'' Simmons said Friday. "It's
kind of a one-off thing, and I have to try to impress them by not
doing anything too exciting, by not making mistakes and by taking
care of the cars.

"When I spoke to Mr. Patrick, he said, 'Obviously, if you crash
two cars right away, that's going to make my decision pretty
quick.'''

Bell won the 2001 Indy Lights championship and spent 2003 racing
in the European F3000 series after driving nine CART events for
Patrick Racing in 2002.

"I did a fair bit of this kind of racing in Indy Lights, so I
can draw heavily from that experience,'' said Bell, who was the
circuit's Rookie of the Year in 2000. "I think it will be a bit of
an adjustment ... running around wheel to wheel with guys that
close at over 200 miles an hour.''

While Bell still wants to drive in Formula One, he also
understands the need for stability.

"There comes a time when you've got to start thinking about
what you want to do as a career,'' he said. "Sitting around
waiting for a Formula One opportunity gets a little old after a
while.''