Commentary

It's not IndyCar racing, but it puts Tracy back behind a steering wheel

IndyCar teams didn't come calling, so out-of-work Paul Tracy landed a new job -- as test driver for Germain Racing in the Craftsman Truck Series, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: May 28, 2008, 8:22 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

It was odd enough not seeing Paul Tracy in an open-wheel car in recent weeks, with the first running of the Indianapolis 500 in the IndyCar-Champ Car unified era.

So imagine this: Tracy in a NASCAR Craftsman truck in the month of May.

The 2003 Champ Car World Series champion tested a Germain Racing Toyota Tundra Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway, dipping a toe into the stock car world for the first time since running a half-dozen races in 2006 in the Nationwide Series.

"The opportunity came up, they called on me to do some testing for Todd," said Tracy, referring to No. 30 driver Todd Bodine, the 2006 series champion and current points leader. "Maybe that will lead to some more testing and potentially some races later on in the year, with the mind of helping Todd win the championship."

[+] EnlargePaul Tracy
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillPaul Tracy, front, leads Alex Tagliani through Turn 3 at the 2008 Long Beach Grand Prix. Tracy finished 11th in the Champ Car finale.

At the moment, surprisingly, a NASCAR truck is more of a possibility than an IndyCar Dallara for Tracy's next competitive venture, with his Forsythe Racing Champ Car team opting not to compete in the IndyCar Series and no other opportunities in the circuit available.

Tracy, 40, dearly wanted to drive at Indianapolis. He had competed five times prior, most recently finishing runner-up in 2002 (to this day he claims he should have been declared the winner instead of Helio Castroneves with the race ending under caution), and longed for another shot at the missing piece in an otherwise remarkable open-wheel career. But no seats -- or at least none of the top-shelf kind he wanted -- came open.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO and Vision Racing owner Tony George fielded calls from Tracy's management group but said he wasn't inclined to spend more money for another team, as he ran three cars with Ed Carpenter, Davey Hamilton and A.J. Foyt IV.

Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker tried to put together a one-off program but also fell short of money, and Tracy was adamant about not adding any of his own when talking to other teams.

"The other phone calls I'd gotten, people that were interested in me coming to Indy, the first question was 'How much money can you pay me to drive?'" Tracy said. "I said, 'I'm not going to pay you anything to drive.' Calling up a guy who's a series champion, with 31 wins, the most wins out of any of the drivers that are Indy cars, and asking how much money I'm going to pay to drive? I'm not interested in that."

So he watched Sunday's race at home in Las Vegas ("I walked in the door right when Danica had that accident with Briscoe in the pit lane -- that was the most entertaining part of the race," he said), and watching could be his only open-wheel option this year.

"All of that's kind of unfortunate in all of this. I'm not sure what his prospects are, and I'm not sure what teams, you know, have available seats that would meet his expectations," George said of Tracy at the Indy 500 media tour in April. "I just want him to have the chance to come over now. I don't know how long he wants to do it, probably a couple of years and transition into the next phase of his professional career.

We've got a lot of irons in the fire, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk to Paul about it. He's a very talented guy, very interesting, he has a lot of good contacts. The thought of doing something together with him was pretty exciting for us.

-- Bob Germain

"But it is kind of unfortunate, some would say a travesty, that he's been sort of left on the sidelines here."

Tracy concurs, though he wonders if his attitude throughout the split years -- he was always a strong Champ Car proponent with little good to say about George's Indy Racing League -- has come back to bite.

"I want to race, I want to compete. It seems the doors for me to go to the IRL are closed right now," he said. "I don't know if that's because of what happened in '02 at the Indy 500, or me drawing such a hard line in the sand of supporting Champ Car over the years.

"The way I'm looking at it now, I've got some time to spend with my wife and my kids and not be focused on racing. I can wait for the right opportunities to present themselves. [For IndyCar], we're talking more toward next year."

For this year, truck racing with Germain could pan out. Germain Racing is one of the premier teams in the CTS, currently fielding full-time Toyotas for Bodine and rookie Justin Marks and a part-time seat for 19-year-old Chrissy Wallace that is expected to be full time in 2009. The team also fields a Nationwide car for Mike Wallace.

"We've got a lot of irons in the fire, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk to Paul about it. He's a very talented guy, very interesting, he has a lot of good contacts. The thought of doing something together with him was pretty exciting for us," team owner Bob Germain said. "We thought we'd start by getting him together with [No. 30 crew chief] Mike Hillman Jr. and Todd at Chicago, doing an engine test."

Germain said there's some familiarity in his team with Tracy dating back to Tracy's brief Nationwide dalliance with owner Frank Cicci in 2006. Tracy gained stock car seat time but not any race success, posting an average finish of 33.7 in six races.

He intended to make more starts in 2007 and had secured sponsorship, but Forsythe Racing owner Gerry Forsythe, in signing Tracy to a new contract late in 2006, asked the native Canadian to step away from NASCAR. Forsythe had just lost A.J. Allmendinger to NASCAR's Team Red Bull.

Tracy has kept close tabs on the open-wheel contingent that has left for NASCAR, from Allmendinger to most recently Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. He noticed that several drivers started out in the truck series and worked up to Sprint Cup, including fellow Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, who ran several truck races in Bill Davis Racing Toyotas starting last September in Las Vegas.

"Trucks are more similar to [Cup racing's] COT than a Nationwide car is, and long term, I think Bob [Germain] is going to go Cup racing, so maybe there's an opportunity," Tracy said.

Germain said he can't see that far into the future with Tracy, but couldn't help but be amused at the outspoken Tracy's enthusiasm.

"One of the things he did say was 'Put me on the track late in the year, I'll make sure Todd wins the championship,'" Germain said, laughing. "I don't know Paul very well, but more and more people in the last couple days have been calling me when they got wind of this, saying 'That guy's unbelievable, he's crazy, he just goes right to the front.'

"It sounds like he and Todd would get along. It's an interesting deal -- we'll see where it goes."

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.