“The funny part, I’m less stressed out about racing than I have been in a long time,” Huddleston said. “I can almost go back to having fun.” Huddleston will start the season in one of his older cars. It’s the same car he won his first Late Model race in and has 12 total victories in its career. “It’s a new, old car you might say,” Huddleston said, adding that his new car is expected to debut in the third race of the season. “We decided we wanted to wait until it’s absolutely perfect.” The car he sold, known as Hot Rod in the Irwindale Speedway pits, has 14 wins. Huddleston said he wants to win at least two more races in his old car, the one he calls Laser, so that it has as many wins as his championship car. Thirkettle said it won’t matter what Huddleston drives, he will be one of the top drivers in the Late Model class again. Mike Johnson of Covina, Brian Kelley of Mission Hills, Scott Youngren of Fallbrook and Austin Grabowski of Upland are also expected to contend for the Late Model championship at Irwindale Speedway, according to Thirkettle. Staudinger said he wants to try and keep a humble, quiet profile at the track this year, even though he has Huddleston’s championship car. Huddleston said he expects Staudinger to be a threat to win every race. “I want to be in the top five every week,” said Staudinger, who won a West Coast Pro Trucks championship in 2003. “But I can’t promise that. I know I have the car, the team and the support. It’s a new experience. I’ve never had this kind of support before.” Huddleston and Thirkettle all but dominated the division at the end of the year. They combined to win the last 10 races, each with five. And that doesn’t settle well with Price. “I’m used to winning races,” said Johnson, who was second in points and had five second-place finishes last year. “I had no wins and that hurts.” Chris Houwen of Acton and Kevin Wood of Saugus are also expected to compete in the Late Model class at Irwindale Speedway. The NASCAR Super Late Models, Super Stocks, Mini Stock and Super Trucks open their seasons tonight at Irwindale Speedway. Gates open at 4 p.m. Races start at 7. Indy Racing League:Marlboro Team Penske and Team Target had the fastest cars during three days of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week. Helio Castroneves, driver for Team Penkse, posted the top speeds during a two-day test on the road course at Homestead. His best laps were 112.033 mph on March 2 and 112.742 mph on March 3. “These tests are always good to see how you compare to the rest of the field, and our results seem to indicate that we’re on the right track,” Castroneves said after the test session. “We have a few more weeks until the start of the season, so Marlboro Team Penske will have to continue to work hard to keep ahead of the competition. Hopefully when we come back to Homestead in a few weeks, we’ll have a good result to begin our hunt for the Championship.” Chip Ganassi’s Team Target drivers Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon were the fastest in testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway oval on Sunday. Wheldon, the defending IRL IndyCar Series champion, clocked the only lap over 218 mph. He was the fastest driver at 218.126 mph. Dixon’s best time was 217.185 mph. Valencia’s Bryan Herta, driver for Andretti Green Racing, had better results on the road course than on the oval during the test. He clocked the 10th-fastest lap, at 110.198 mph, during the first day of testing and rose to eighth fastest, at 111.347 mph, on the second day. “I don’t think we really improved,” Herta said after the test session. “It was a disappointing two days for us. For some reason, we could never get the car going right.” Herta was 15th fastest on the oval with his best time at 214.446 mph. “I’m disappointed with the way we ran,” said Herta, a Hart High of Newhall graduate and driver of the No. 7 Honda-powered entry for Andretti Green Racing. “Although this is a test, I still expect to come out here and be fast. The team has a lot of work to do before the first race of the season and I’m hopeful that we will be able to come back to Homestead and be competitive.” Herta’s Andretti Green Racing teammates were considerably faster on the road course and the oval test. Tony Kanann had the sixth-fastest lap on the first day of testing on the road course and Dario Franchitti was fifth fastest on the second day. Kanaan was also fifth fastest at 215.469 mph on the oval. He was followed by Franchitti, eighth fastest at 215.070 mph and Marco Andretti, 13th fastest at 214.559 mph. The IRL season opens March 26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tim Haddock covers motor sports for the Daily News. He can be reached at (818) 713-3715 or [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! No driver was hotter than Newhall’s Travis Thirkettle at the end of the NASCAR Late Model season at Irwindale Speedway last year. He won three of the last four races, added another win at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, and finished third in points in the Late Model class. Opening night? Well, that’s a different story. When the NASCAR season opens tonight at Irwindale Speedway, Thirkettle said he hopes it doesn’t end in disaster. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant His worst finish of 2005 came on opening night when he crashed and was 23rd. It was the latest in a long line of opening-night troubles he has experienced over the years. “I don’t care where I finish, as long as I finish,” said Thirkettle. “I’ve been in wrecks, had blown motors. I don’t know what it is. It’s just the way it goes.” If he can survive opening night, Thirkettle will be one of the top contenders to challenge Tim Huddleston for the Late Model championship. Huddleston of Agoura Hills was the class of the Late Model division last year. He won eight of 16 races en route to the track championship. It was his first in 17 years of racing, which included a stint at Saugus Speedway. Then he decided to sell his championship car to Aaron Staudinger of Canyon Country and start from scratch, building a new car that won’t be ready until after the season starts.
Thirkettle not a good starter, for openers, in Late Model