From Dan to Danica, 2008 campaign won't be lacking in drama
Will Dan Wheldon do enough in '08 to attract a NASCAR ride in '09? Will Danica Patrick finally get to Victory Lane? John Oreovicz poses these questions and others as he examines the eight drivers to watch in the 2008 IndyCar season.
Updated: April 2, 2008, 12:07 PM ETBy John Oreovicz | Special to ESPN.com
With the stroke of a pen (proffered by Minardi brand principal Paul Stoddart, so he claims), American open-wheel racing has been unified under the Indy Racing League banner.The addition of five Champ Car teams has swelled the entry list for the IndyCar Series season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway to 26 cars, up from 20 a year ago and the third-highest total for an opener in the history of the IRL.Each of the 26 drivers slated to compete at Homestead has a compelling story. In the spirit of '08, here are eight in particular to focus on:
• 4. Hideki Mutoh -- From Shigeaki Hattori to Kosuke Matsuura, Japanese drivers have posted a checkered record in IndyCar Series competition. But there are signs that Mutoh could rise above the mediocrity.Mutoh is a product of Honda's Formula Dream program in Japan, and the 25-year-old has already spent several years racing small formula open-wheelers in Europe. He raced in the Indy Pro Series in 2007, winning twice on the way to second place in the series championship, and made a competent Indycar Series debut with an eighth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway for Panther Racing.Honda has always backed a Japanese driver during its five years in the IndyCar Series, but this is the first time it has placed one with an absolute top team. Mutoh is stepping into the No. 27 car at Andretti Green Racing vacated by defending series and Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti."This is a championship-winning team, and the No. 27 is the champion's number," Mutoh observed. "That means a lot for me, for the Japanese and for Honda. I have very good teammates I can learn a lot from and I have no pressure at all. I'm really looking forward to the first race."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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