- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Izod IndyCar Series debuts its version of the two-step Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Indy car racing occasionally featured doubleheaders from 1968 to 1981 at venues from Mosport to Michigan. But the open-wheel set hasn't put on a same-day twin bill since Rick Mears scored a double triumph at Atlanta Motor Speedway 30 years ago.
The cream always seemed to rise to the top when the Indy cars played two. Al Unser is the career leader with seven twin-bill race wins; his brother Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti scored six apiece.
So, it's logical to conclude that the top stars of the modern era are the favorites to emerge on top after each of the 114-lap (275-
kilometer) contests on what is acknowledged as the toughest and most dangerous oval the IndyCar Series visits.
"IndyCar Series races at Texas Motor Speedway have never disappointed, and, with a record 30 cars on the track, the excitement of the Firestone Twin 275s will reach a whole new level," said TMS president and promoter extraordinaire Eddie Gossage.
The action is always fast and frantic at Texas, and paying customers will get a double helping Saturday night. The second race should prove especially interesting, with a blind qualifying draw that could force the series' top stars to have to work their way from the back of the field.
"As if we didn't have sprint races anyway, now it's going to be like the ultimate sprint race," said fan favorite Danica Patrick. "The second race is going to be the one -- I hope I get the pole and run away at the front while everybody else gets stuck in the back. There's definitely going to be more yellows in the second race.
"I almost won there last year but came up a little bit short," added Patrick, whose second-place finish at Texas behind Ryan Briscoe capped one of the best drives of her seven-year Indy car career.
Briscoe and his Penske Racing teammates, Helio Castroneves and Will Power, are looking to rebound from an unusually uncompetitive performance at the Indianapolis 500. Power was the team's top finisher at Indy in 14th place, and he heads to TMS leading the series championship by 16 points over Dario Franchitti of Target Ganassi Racing.
With three wins in standard 500- or 550-kilometer races at Texas, Castroneves is the most successful driver at the fearsome oval north of Fort Worth. Other previous Texas winners in Saturday night's field include Tony Kanaan (2004) and Scott Dixon (2008).
Meanwhile, Franchitti and Power are the only top Indy car stars who have never won at TMS. Power is seeking his first oval-track victory.
"We've got to do a better job, no doubt," Franchitti admitted. "I'd like to get to shoot off those guns and wear that crazy cowboy hat [traditional Texas Victory Lane antics].
"It's going to be very exciting for the fans and for the drivers, and I'm looking forward to it," said the three-time IndyCar Series champion. "I think it's going to be a fun and crazy night, and I think the fans will definitely get their money's worth."
We've got to do a better job, no doubt. I'd like to get to shoot off those guns and wear that crazy cowboy hat.
”-- Dario Franchitti, who's winless
at Texas Motor Speedway
It will be interesting to see how the strategy unfolds, based on the number of full-course cautions the races feature. With a fair amount of yellow, drivers could complete each contest with a single pit stop.
"I always find new rules interesting, and they are a good way to keep the sport in evolution," said Newman/Haas Racing's Oriol Servia, who ranks third in the points standings. "I think having double-file restarts already brings the excitement of the start of the race, but having two finishes may bring the heat of the final laps twice. We could have the fans not using their seats much and being on their feet for most of the evening."
Servia said he expects the strategy to differ for each of the 114-lap races, which will be separated by a one-hour break. Each team will have one spare Honda engine to use in a spare car in the event one of its cars is involved in a crash or suffers a mechanical failure.
Half of the normal allotment of championship points and bonus prize money will be awarded for each race.
"You will have to up your game a little sooner than usual [in the first race], but at the same time, you don't want to burn yourself out too much as you will have to go at it again right after," Servia said.
"I'm not sure yet how we will approach it, but one thing is for sure: If you have a shot at getting a win on the first one, there will be no holding back because who knows what could happen in the second one."
Veteran Indy car racing stars are eager to see how the twin-bill format plays out in the modern era.
"It's going to be flat out," said three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1980 CART Indy car champion Johnny Rutherford. "It's an exciting concept, and it was back when I won the races at Atlanta [a sweep in 1979].
"I think this is going to be exciting for the fans and for the competitors, especially with the draw for the start of the second race. It's a little different."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.