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Saturday, June 29, 2002
Fisher accepts role as underdog

By Jack Arute

Sarah Fisher
Sarah Fisher wasn't people with Team Penske's second consecutive Indy Racing League front row sweep. While Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves took the top two spots for Saturday night's Sun Trust Indy Challenge at the ¾-mile Richmond International Raceway, Fisher struggled to the 15th spot on the grid -- 6 mph slower than de Ferran's pole speed of 168.705 mph.

"There's a lot of work on the car that we need to do," Fisher said. " Last year, I was here with a Dallara and a Menards (engine), and this year I'm here with an Infiniti and a G Force. It's a totally different engineer and team."

Fisher joined Dreyer and Reinbold Racing earlier in the week and hopes to use Richmond's short oval configuration to highlight her return. She started last year from the front row and at this year's Nazareth outing -- the second-shortest track on the IRL schedule -- she finished fourth.

Fisher told the Associated Press that a lot has changed since her front row start here a year ago and her target was the "Big Red Penske Machine."

''They've got a lot more resources than the average team does,'' Fisher said. ''They're testing every week. If we had a $20 million budget, I'm sure we could do 168, too. Unfortunately, we only have three."

There it is. The universal lament. You hear it in Major League Baseball, the NBA and most often in motorsports. The other guy has more money. He can do more because he has more.

The crux of the IRL issue is money spent for testing. Teams with large budgets can rent facilities and devote hours to finding the right set-ups for a particular track. Others, like Fisher's operation, must hope to find the "right stuff" during scheduled practices leading up to and following qualifying.

The IRL has no set limits on testing. They organize a series of open tests at specific tracks and private testing is regulated through controlled allotments of the series' Firestone tires. It is a novel method of holding down the number of testing days, but does little to stop finances from creating a gap.

It costs money for teams to test, be it private or in open sessions -- money that some of these teams do not have. A soft marketing climate has affected everyone in racing, except the teams at the top. In the IRL, that's Team Penske.

In the IRL, however, the gap is not as wide as it could be. The base rules package keeps the margin narrow. There is just so much that you can do within the tight parameters to gain an edge.

Extra funding does allow for a wider margin between competitors. Extra cars and parts, as well as larger staffs, means more can be accomplished. Home Depot certainly has a deeper inventory than your local hardware store.

This is not a new phenomenon. Money has been tied to racing since Henry Ford first ran his Model T.

As Fisher went on to tell the AP, it is merely motivation.

''There's always going to be those teams that are going to stick out and that'll have more money and be on top, but that's a part of racing," she said.