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Andretti denounces new Indy circuit

The new Indy Racing League is celebrating the recent groundbreaking of its track at Disney World, and the whole affair is just plain breaking Mario Andretti's heart.

Andretti, the former IndyCar driver who retired after last season, said the emergence of the IRL next year only can hurt IndyCar racing.

"I do not believe in what (IRL founder Tony George) is doing," said Andretti, whose son, Michael, is competing in today's G.I. Joe 200 in Portland, Ore. "Everything he's doing is destructive.

"No. 1, it's destructive because it's going to take attention away from (the IndyCar World Series). No. 2, he wants to create an all-oval series, which I do not believe in. The ovals to me are wonderful, but a series, as it's in place now, with a mix is a lot healthier and a lot safer. A single-seater car should not be exposed, a driver should not be exposed to oval races for the entire season.

"Can (the IndyCar World Series) be better? Yes. Okay, cultivate what's best. (But) let's not start all over."

The inaugural IRL race, the Disney 200, is scheduled for Jan. 27.

NASCAR warms Alaska: Dale Earnhardt, who is scheduled to sign autographs Wednesday at Ferman Chevrolet in Tampa, recently held an autograph session in Sedanta, Alaska, where more than 1,000 people showed up.

"I couldn't believe it," Earnhardt said. "We could never take racing up there, but if we did, there's a lot of people who would love it."

Heading to the Batcave: Bill Elliott's "Thunderbat" paint scheme on his race car, a promotional gig for his sponsor, McDonald's, and the movie Batman Forever is now a thing of the past. Starting with the Pepsi 400 on Saturday, Elliott's Thunderbirds will sport the regular red and yellow paint scheme.

Hitting the bricks: Several NASCAR Winston Cup teams spent the off-week testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the second annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 5.

No flashbacks for Irvan: Ernie Irvan was at Michigan for last week's race and said he had no problems returning to the track where he had his near-fatal crash last year.

"It wasn't too tough," he said. "I don't really remember any of the wreck, so it wasn't all that bad."

Irvan has not been cleared by doctors or NASCAR to drive competitively, but he has been making several test runs at various tracks.

Slow progress: IndyCar driver Stan Fox, who sustained a head injury during a first-lap crash at the Indy 500 in May, continues to be listed in fair condition at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Doctors say he is in a semi-conscious state, able to open his eyes for short periods and respond to simple commands.

Fresh face: Andy Hillenburg, the points leader in the ARCA series, is replacing Greg Sacks of Maitland in the Dick Brooks-owned No. 40 Pontiac for the Pepsi 400.

Rusty's tough luck: Rusty Wallace has put up championship-winning numbers the past two seasons, but has no title. As an example of how tough his luck has been, consider that at this point last year, Wallace had 2,020 points and was third in the standings behind Irvan and Earnhardt.

This year, Sterling Marlin has the same amount of points (2,020), yet he leads the series standings.

Road trip: The Busch Series moves to the road course at Watkins Glen today for the Lysol 200. Defending champion Terry Labonte has not won a Busch race after leading the series in victories a year ago.

Fast takeover: Speedway Motorsports, the folks who own Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, are practically taking over stock car race tracks around the country. The Concord, N.C., company last week purchased 50 percent of the stock of North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and is building the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

G.I. Joe 200: Jacques Villeneuve turned back challenges from Al Unser Jr. and Jimmy Vasser, winning the pole in Portland, Ore.

Truckin': Joe Ruttman held off Geoff Bodine to win the NASCAR SuperTruck Series 150 Friday night in Bristol, Tenn. Ruttman averaged 72.408 mph in winning for co-owner Ernie Irvan.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Daytona facts

Race: Pepsi 400.

Track: 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach.

Green flag: 11 a.m. Saturday.

Distance: 160 laps (400 miles).

Pole qualifying: 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Defending champion: Jimmy Spencer.

TV: ESPN.

Radio: WFNS-AM 910.

Tickets: Available by calling (904) 253-7223.

Fry's pick: Ken Schrader.

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