LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - IndyCar drivers took laps around New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first time in 13 years Thursday, with the open-wheel series attempting to attract fans who flock to NASCAR races run at the track.
While the circuit has been here before, most of the drivers haven't and they were trying to learn the nuances of the 1-mile oval before Sunday's 225-mile race.
``The only way you're going to keep people coming back is if the show is really good and if people really enjoy watching the racing,'' Danica Patrick said.
With six races left in the season, drivers should get used to learning unfamiliar tracks. Besides New Hampshire, there are new venues on tap in Baltimore and Las Vegas as the IndyCar circuit tries to expand its fan base.
New Hampshire is a regular and popular stop in NASCAR. The state shuts down part of Interstate 93 to reduce some of the congestion as thousands of cars and RVs funnel from the freeway to the two-lane road leading to the track in Loudon, just east of the state capital of Concord.
``I think the goal in coming here would be to attract new fans and attract much more of the New England market and Boston and near cities,'' said Patrick, who raced here last summer in a Nationwide series event.
The last open-wheel race at the track was won by Tony Stewart in June 1998, when IndyCar was known as the Indy Racing League.
NHMS is less than half the size of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of IndyCar's premier event, but slightly larger than the tiny Iowa Speedway, which is just 7/8 of a mile. It's also the first IndyCar race on an oval since Iowa at the end of June. The cars have been running road courses since, and drivers are trying to readjust during an unusual race week.
``I always love coming to a new track, learning it. You've got to feel out the bumps and the lines,'' Ryan Briscoe said. ``It's nice that we've got so much time today.''
Thursday was a day of practice, followed by a day off Friday and qualifying Saturday.
``I'm just happy to have the chance to be driving around this place. It's a lot of fun. We're still a little ways off, but we're making the car better,'' Ryan Hunter-Reay said. ``Hopefully we can get the fans in here and make this thing permanent for us.''
Hunter-Reay recalled traveling to several open-wheel races with his father in the mid-90s, including New Hampshire. The track is such a popular draw for NASCAR, he hopes to see IndyCar come back again.
``It's beautiful around here. It's a great place to have a race,'' he said. ``Hopefully, we can get the fan in here and make this thing permanent for us.''
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