One driver who was particularly pleased to be back on a 1.5 mile oval last weekend at Texas was Danica Patrick, who has been sorely missing the oval races this season.

"This is how we started," said Danica, adding that ovals were "IndyCar at its best."

Danica is also especially delighted to see this weekend's race at the Milwaukee Mile back on the calendar. The IndyCar season started with four straight street/road courses (at St Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach and Sao Paulo) before finally getting to the first oval event of the year, the Indianapolis 500, in May and Danica revealed just how much she'd hated that opening sequence.

"I can't wait until those first four are over," she said. "It's not that I can't do well. Barber was probably one of my better races, and I was the least excited to go there. So I can have good weekends, but it's frustrating. I just don't qualify the car well."

When IndyCar emerged from the reunification between Indy Racing League and Champ Car in 2008, the idea was that the Indy ovals would be matched with the Champ Car preference for street courses in a roughly even split, but in recent years the balance has tipped away from ovals.

Since Randy Bernard took over as CEO of IndyCar, the series has severed its relationship with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) which led to the dropping of events at Chicagoland, Homestead and Kansas; in an unfortunate coincidence, the final event to be held at Motegi, Japan has also been forced to switch to the road circuit there rather than the oval where Danica Patrick recorded her one and only series victory in 2008.

"I was disappointed to see that Motegi is not an oval anymore. That almost makes me feel like I have half the oval races for some odd reason in my mind," said Danica at a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway at the weekend. "Unbelievably, in 2011, we have 10 road courses and seven ovals. It's a disappointing schedule, but it's what the schedule is.

"I was disappointed [in 2008] when we lost Michigan, and everyone said it was the most dangerous track, but I think it was the best race we put on all year," she continued, adding that she was delighted to at least see at least one previously dropped oval race restored to the calendar this season. "It's great to see Milwaukee back on the schedule. That's like a Michigan for us. Lots of passing. Cars going off, cars changing, new tires making a difference. It reminds me of the Nationwide races.

"This [oval racing] is how we started," she said. "This is the series that prevailed, and we were oval racing ... I think it's our great racing. Promotions like [last weekend's Firestone Twin 275s double-header] are the things we need to get people excited to watch races beyond the Indy 500. The racing is really competitive and exciting to watch. It's really exciting to drive, too. Sometimes you get out of the car and think, 'Wow, it's crazy.'"

Instead, it seemed to Danica that all people every talked about were "road-course ideas and locations and venues and wanting to go there, and how it's going to be a great race and great area to go. I don't hear a lot about oval races necessarily."

Randy Bernard himself was aware that the issue of oval races was a very sensitive hot topic for both drivers and for fans, conceding that the CART series was losing fans even before the schism into IRL/Champ Car partly because of this very issue.

"CART had taken the initiative of wanting more road and street courses, which pushed American drivers right to NASCAR because they didn't have the skills on road and street," Bernard admitted. "If American drivers are going to continue to be important, the oval has to be important as well. I think Danica speaks of what a lot of other drivers would say, too."

Bernard said negotiations were ongoing with ISC and that a return to Chicagoland or Auto Club Speedway in California was still possible, but that he preferred the 50-50 split between road/oval courses and that the road courses "have a much more urban, international and youthful city crowd" with a different appeal to sponsors than the traditional NASCAR oval demographic.

He said that increasing the calendar to 22 events would allow the return of more ovals without compromising the growth of street and road events, and that a "triple crown" idea Danica proposed for Indianapolis, Michigan and California showed promise and was worth considering, but needed more work.

Danica - who has been strident in her campaigning for more ovals on the calendar for some time - said that she hadn't received much positive feedback from Bernard on the issue. It's one of the factors leading her to consider a full-time switch to NASCAR at the end of this season, although she continued to insist this weekend that no decision or announcement was due in the near future and that it would be more likely the end of the season before anything was finalised.



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