Familiar seat for Tags

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 2:59 AM ET

A year ago, Alex Tagliani was looking on in envy as his longtime Las Vegas neighbour and former teammate at Player's Racing, Patrick Carpentier, appeared to be on his way to a successful new racing career in NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Tagliani, on the other hand, was out of a job, and considering a run at NASCAR himself after being unable to put together any kind of deal in the then newly packaged Indy Racing League.

But yesterday while Carpentier was contemplating retiring from racing to start a home construction business, Tagliani announced that he has joined forces with Northlands -- the promoter of the Rexall Edmonton Indy -- to race the first IRL event of the season on Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The Montreal native will climb into a car prepared by Conquest Racing -- the same outfit that gave him a pair of rides in 2008 -- first at Detroit, and then a fourth place (the team's best finish of 2008) at the non-points paying race at Surfers Paradise, Australia.

"It's been a pretty crazy winter and I'm happy to be getting back behind the wheel of a race car this weekend," Tagliani said yesterday in a conference call from Indianapolis where he was getting a seat fitted for the No. 34 Conquest Racing Dallara. "I had an excellent experience with the team last year and I'm looking forward to continuing what we started last season."

During the same teleconference call, IRL boss and Vision Racing team owner Tony George unveiled his second driver for the St. Petersburg race -- and, no, it wasn't Toronto's Paul Tracy.

American Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive the No. 21 Vision Racing Dallara. Tracy drove his only IRL race of 2008 in Vision's second car at Edmonton, where he finished fourth, just one spot away from the podium.

Also signing a race deal yesterday was Darren Manning who will drive a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara.

The 33-year-old Briton lost his AJ Foyt Racing job after the team signed Brazilian Vitor Meira at the end of last season.

OFF-TRACK PROBLEMS

A pair of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers found themselves in the limelight away from the track this week.

Fresh off winning the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville, three-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was in a Miami courthouse testifying in the case of the U.S. government versus two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves.

Castroneves and his lawyer/financial adviser, Alan Miller, are charged with conspiring to evade paying taxes on some $5 million US.

Johnson was the leadoff defence witness and testified that Miller has a sterling reputation in the motorsports world.

Johnson said Miller advises many drivers in NASCAR and the IRL. It was Miller whom the U.S. Attorney alleges dreamed up a scheme to hide a $5-million signing bonus Castroneves received from Penske Racing by placing it in an offshore account.

At about the same time, in another courthouse over in Dallas, Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was petitioning to get his hands on some funds that he had invested in the now-disgraced Stanford Financial Group.

According to court documents uncovered by the Dallas Morning News the bad investment has left McMurray "with not enough cash to take care of his (federal) income taxes by April."

The Stanford investments are part of an alleged billion-dollar fraud that now is being prosecuted by the U.S. government in the wake of the financial market collapse this past year.

McMurray claims he is a victim in the fraud.

These were "direct cash deposits in connection with McMurray's employment as a NASCAR driver and are unequivocally not connected with the alleged fraud," his filing says.

Also alleged victims in the fraud were several Major League Baseball players, including Yankees outfielders Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady, Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey and former Texas Rangers pitchers Darren Oliver and Robb Nen.

TOYOTA DROPS APPEAL

Before the Malaysian Grand Prix even gets underway on Sunday, Toyota still will be stinging from a penalty imposed at the Australian Grand Prix on driver Jarno Trulli.

Race stewards issued a pit road violation against the Toyota F-1 driver and penalized him 25 seconds, dropping him from third to 12th at the finish.

Toyota officials immediately announced they would appeal the penalty to the FIA, and whatever other higher court it deemed necessary, to win back their podium finish and the world championship points that went with it.

But a re-reading of FIA's sporting code, specifically Article 152, Paragraph 5, changed Toyota's mind.

The paragraph reads: "Penalties of driving through or stopping in pit lanes together with certain penalties specified in FIA Championship regulations where this is expressly stated, are not susceptible to appeal."


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