Tracy left in the dust

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

It was at the start of the 2006 NASCAR -- then the Busch Series -- season that Paul Tracy came to the conclusion that it would be better for his career if he gave the big stock cars a try.

Unfortunately, his decision came too late to land a seat in one of the top teams in the junior NASCAR circuit, and despite his readily apparent driving skills, he was unable to translate his talent into wins with a couple of also-ran outfits.

Yet there certainly was enough interest in Tracy from the NASCAR crowd to worry his Champ Car World Series boss Jerry Forsythe. Forsythe had given his blessing to Tracy's foray into NASCAR thinking that he wouldn't get a fair shake over there and would give up on the dream.

When Kevin Harvick came calling in 2007, however, seeking to put Tracy in the No. 33 Chevrolet that Tony Stewart drove in the now-Nationwide Series, Forsythe asked that Tracy refuse the offer in return for a lucrative long-term contract to stay in Champ Car.

And Paul Tracy did what Paul Tracy usually never does -- he took Forsythe at his word that the Chicago industrialists would repay him for the loyalty -- and he turned Harvick down.

Harvick, of course, took the wheel of the No. 33 Chevrolet himself and won the inaugural NAPA 200 at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Of course Tracy was left fuming when rumours started shortly after, hinting that Forsythe wanted to renegotiate the five-year contract.

In a face-to-face meeting during the Christmas holidays this past December, however, Forsythe pledged renewed support for Tracy and promised to upgrade the No. 3 Panoz DP01 team with new engineers and equipment.

Just over 60 days later, Forsythe and his Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven finalized a deal to sell the series to rival Indy Racing League boss Tony George.

Tracy figured everything was still a go and his unrequited dream of an official Indianapolis 500 win suddenly seemed possible.

Then, the unthinkable happened in a phone call from Forsythe's racing chief, Neil Micklewright. Tracy was notified that the team was folding.

"I was in shock," Tracy said. "Just days before that I was told to start getting ready for testing at Laguna Seca."

Tracy was betrayed by the team that he had stayed faithful to while many of his contemporaries were jumping into NASCAR's gold-lined pool.

To add insult to injury, the timing of the whole deal with Forsythe left Tracy on the outside looking in as the 2008 IRL season is just 10 days away from firing up at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"All I want to do is race," Tracy said in a telephone interview this week. "That's all I ever wanted to do."

There also have been stories making the rounds of the IRL garage that Forsythe was using Tracy -- Champ Car's biggest star -- as a bargaining chip to get more money out of the merger from George.

So now Tracy sits at home in Las Vegas without a team and the IRL is without Champ Car's most valuable on-track asset.

Former bitter rival Michael Andretti recently was quoted as saying the IRL needed Tracy to bring the series colour.

Now that Andretti is on the verge of owning the Grand Prix of Toronto, he also knows how many tickets the Thrill from West Hill brings to the table.

The folks at the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton also have been burning up the phone lines, demanding their new partners in Indianapolis explain why Tracy might not be there in July.

The disgraceful part of it all is that there are people in the former Champ Car series who actually are happy that the IRL won't have Tracy on the grid next week.

Shame on them.

STEWART BLASTS HAMILTON

Former world champion Jackie Stewart launched a broadside this week at 23-year-old phenom Lewis Hamilton after learning the McLaren driver had not joined the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

The GPDA acts as a sort of union for Formula One drivers, dealing with safety issues.

"I'm surprised and disappointed that Lewis has not yet joined the GPDA," Stewart said. "The GPDA did an immense amount of good. It is wrong and complacent of Lewis not to be involved."

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2007 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RECAP

Fernando Alonso needed just 10 seconds to know he would win the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix. "When I was leading after the first corner that opened the dream to win the race," he said after the event. Alonso gave his then-new McLaren-Mercedes team its first Formula One victory since 2005. Rookie Lewis Hamilton, F-1's first black driver, added to the McLaren resurgence by finishing second ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Pole-sitter Felipe Massa of Ferrari was overtaken by Alonso and Hamilton on the first lap and never challenged. He finished fifth.

WHO TO WATCH

After last week's debacle in Australia look for Kimi Raikkonen and team Ferrari to bounce back with a better handle on their race cars. The prancing pony crew seemed lost without traction control in Melbourne. Britain's Lewis Hamilton appeared to have no similar problems with his McLaren-Mercedes so he'll be the favourite in Sopango. Also worth watching will be four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais, who was just two laps away from a possible podium finish in his first race in the Torro Rosso Ferrari.

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FORMULA ONE

Driver Championship leaders

1 . Lewis Hamilton 10

2. Nick Heidfeld 8

3. Nico Rosberg 6

4. Fernando Alonso 5

5. Heikki Kovalainen 4

6. Kazuki Nakajima 3

7. Sebastien Bourdais 2

8. Kimi Raikkonen 1

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NASCAR

Sprint Cup points leaders

1 . -- Kyle Busch 782

2. -- Greg Biffle 752

3. -- Kevin Harvick 749

4. +1 Jeff Burton 745

5. +1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 686

6. +1 Kasey Kahne 674

7. +1 Tony Stewart 656

8. -4 Ryan Newman 635

9. +7 Clint Bowyer 606

10. -- Kurt Busch 605

11. +1 Matt Kenseth 604

12. -1 Martin Truex Jr. 595


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