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BRYAN HERTA STEERING CLEAR OF IRL FOR NOW.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK MOTOR SPORTS

It looks like there won't be any more Indianapolis 500s in Bryan Herta's future.

Herta will be driving the Andretti Green Racing Acura-powered entry in the American Le Mans Series. Andretti Green Racing has a four-car team in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, but Herta, who has driven the No. 7 Honda-powered entry for the team since 2003, said he doesn't anticipate returning to the IRL in any capacity.

``It's probably something I'm not going to do. Sports cars are my future,'' said Herta, a Valencia resident and Hart High of Newhall graduate. ``But never say never. Six months from now, it might seem like a good idea.''

Herta said Dario Franchitti will be one of his teammates in some of the American Le Mans Series races. Franchitti is one of the drivers for Andretti Green Racing in the IRL.

There is also a possibility that Danica Patrick, the only woman driver in the IRL who moved over from Rahal Letterman Racing to Andretti Green Racing in the off-season, will be teamed with Herta in some American Le Mans Series races.

XM Satellite Radio is a sponsor on Herta's American Le Mans Series team and on Patrick's IRL team.

``She's shown interest in that,'' Herta said. ``XM is an associate sponsor on her car, so it makes sense.''

While Herta probably won't be racing in the Indianapolis 500, it looks like he may get a chance to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. In essence, he is trading in one world- famous race for another.

Herta won't race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Andretti Green Racing this year, but he may enter the race with another team.

Andretti Green Racing and Acura are entering an LMP1 class car in the American Le Mans Series. The LMP2 class cars, the top division in the American Le Mans Series, race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Plus, teams need to be invited to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Since this is Acura's first year in the American Le Mans Series, it does not anticipate receiving an invitation for the race.

``But I may ask to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans with another team,'' Herta said.

Honda Performance Development, based in Santa Clarita, is providing Andretti Green Racing with Acura engines for the American Le Mans Series. Honda Performance Development also provides every team in the IRL with Honda engines.

Herta has competed in one 24 Hours of Le Mans race. He was in the 2002 race with Panoz Motorsports. He was prequalifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003 when he was asked by Michael Andretti to join Andretti Green Racing. Franchitti was injured in a motorcycle crash and Herta was brought on board as a substitute driver.

The following year, Andretti Green Racing added a team for Herta. He won two races while with Andretti Green Racing, one at Kansas Speedway in 2003 and the other at Michigan International Speedway in 2005.

The American Le Mans Series season starts with the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida on March 17. There are 12 races on the American Le Mans Series schedule, including during the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14.

``We're going there to win races and hopefully win the championship,'' Herta said. ``I have a lot of confidence in Acura and Andretti Green Racing to get the job done.''

NASCAR Elite Division, Southwest Series: Canyon Country's Greg Pursley led the most laps, but J.R. Norris of Huntersville, N.C., won the NASCAR Elite Division, Southwest Series, race at Phoenix International Raceway on Thursday night.

This was the last Elite Division race in NASCAR, which decided to eliminate the developmental series from its ranks.

Pursley, who won the pole, led a race-high 49 laps in the Konica Minolta 125, but Norris took the lead on lap 81 and led the final 44 to win the race.

``This is a huge victory for me and the team,'' said Norris, who won the Elite Division, Southeast Series, championship. ``These Southwest Series guys are some of the best racers in the country and to come out here and win is a testament to my team. This is a great way to end the season.''

Norris won the race in a field that included M.K. Kanke of Frazier Park, the winningest driver in Southwest Series history, Tim Schendel, the Midwest Series champion and winner of the Toyota All-Star Showdown Elite Division race earlier this month, Burney Lamar, a driver on the NASCAR Busch Series and Matt Crafton, a regular on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Eric Holmes, the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, champion from Escalon finished second. He was followed by Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Brandon Riehl and Eddy McKean. Pursley finished 20th.

``We all wanted to win the race but the track was a little slick and on old tires I just did not have enough for J.R.,'' Holmes said. ``I love this track and will miss racing these cars on it. This was an awesome event under the lights and I hope the fans really enjoyed it.''

Crafton finished sixth, Lamar was eighth, Kanke was ninth and Schendel was 11th.

The field also included Keith Spangler from Chatsworth and Roger Avants, who won the first Southwest Series race in 1986 at Saugus Speedway.

timothy.haddock@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3715
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 11, 2006
Words:914
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