After Kansas, team will decide future

Updated: July 2, 2004, 11:24 PM ET
Associated Press

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.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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