HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) - It's such a badly kept secret that it's not even a secret anymore. The Indy Racing League envisions crowning its 2011 champion at Las Vegas.
And when next year's schedule comes out Friday, IndyCar drivers expect to see those plans become reality.
Which leaves a glaring question: What about Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will host this year's finale?
There is no guarantee that IRL comes back to South Florida next year, although talks have taken place about Homestead possibly having a different date than its once-traditional season-opening spot, which it held until hosting the championship weekend for the first time in 2009.
``It'll be a shame if we don't come back,'' defending IRL champion Dario Franchitti said.
The latest tipoff that Homestead, about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Miami, isn't exactly held in high regard by everyone in the racing world came last weekend. Speedway Motorsports Inc. owner Bruton Smith referred to the track's location as ``North Cuba,'' and said he would be stunned if the IRL finale wasn't in Las Vegas - one of his tracks - in 2011.
``If you're going to do a championship, you've got to do it at the proper place,'' Smith said. ``And I don't think North Cuba is the proper place.''
Smith was speaking of NASCAR's decision to host its championship weekend at Homestead, but given Las Vegas' interest in getting back on the IRL schedule, his words clearly had a dual meaning.
Homestead officials took Smith's words in stride.
``We'd also be opposed to a race in North Cuba - given the current sanctions and political environment,'' Homestead-Miami president Matt Becherer said in a lighthearted statement. ``In addition, I'm not familiar with Havana's racing facility, so that could be a concern, as well. On the plus side, imagine the victory cigars.''
Becherer's statement went on to point out South Florida's history of hosting other major sporting events like Super Bowls, Bowl Championship Series games, the World Series and the NBA finals. He said ``there's a reason'' NASCAR keeps coming back to Homestead for its championship weekend, plus added that the track looks forward to hosting another NASCAR championship in 2011.
Perhaps cryptically, there was no mention of IndyCar.
``I'll be sad if we don't come back here,'' Franchitti said. ``I spend a lot of time in South Florida. The track last year was very good to me. I've also left here in a helicopter before on the way to the hospital, so I've seen the ups and downs. It's a track that I like. I think as it's aged, it's been a very good race track.''
One of Homestead's perceived draws in the IndyCar world is that the series has so many drivers who make their year-round homes in the Miami area - and the fact that many of them have ties to Latin America and South America is another plus. Emerson Fittipaldi was one of the first big-time drivers to be based in South Florida, and over the past handful of years, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay are among the many who have been added to that list.
``I presume it'll go back to Japan and then Vegas at the end of the season,'' IRL driver Scott Dixon said. ``It's funny, because Homestead's always been the opener or the finale. If we don't come here, it's going to feel pretty strange. Since I started my career in 1999, I've been coming here, so it would be a big change.''
Franchitti said drivers are not asked for their input on the schedule. Where it says they go, they go.
Driver Ryan Briscoe says he's aware of the rumors that Las Vegas will be the end of the 2011 IRL schedule, and had no complaints about Homestead.
Still, he acknowledged that he can see Vegas' appeal, as well.
``It makes sense for a finale because of what Vegas is,'' Briscoe said. ``It'd be a fun place to finish and everyone could go and celebrate in a fun city. At the end of the day, we're here to race and wherever it is, we'll go out and do our best.''

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