INDIANAPOLIS — Buddy Rice will return to Panther Racing in the No. 44 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka entry for the IZOD IndyCar Series races at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion ended a two-plus-year series hiatus in May, making his first career start for Panther in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 (qualified seventh; finished 18th). He will team with JR Hildebrand, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year point leader, who drives the No. 4 National Guard car.
“Everybody at Panther is extremely excited to have Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka and a champion like Buddy Rice back with us for the last two races of the season,” team managing partner and CEO John Barnes said. “Those guys bring so much to this team and we owe Buddy and Fuzzy’s Vodka a ton of credit for the success we had this year at Indianapolis, and we feel we’ve put together a race-winning package for both Kentucky and Las Vegas.
“Buddy worked so well with JR in May and I’m glad they’ll get the opportunity to work together again because I can’t ever remember a pair of teammates working together as well as those two did at Indianapolis.”
The IZOD IndyCar World Championship Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be Rice’s 100th IZOD IndyCar Series start. The Phoenix resident has three victories and was a career-high third in the championship standings in ’04.
“I’m just excited to be back at Panther Racing and thankful that Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka has made it possible for us to run some more races together,” Rice said. “Like I said before we ran Indianapolis, I’ve had a lot of chances to get back into IndyCar but at Panther we know we’ve got a package together that can win races.
“I know Panther was really strong at Kentucky last year (Ed Carpenter earning the pole position and finishing second) and they’ve got one of the best oval programs in the series, so I know JR and I can work together to get these cars towards the front. I’m thankful to John Barnes and Fuzzy’s Vodka for giving me this opportunity and I’m excited to get back out there.”