CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston Round 18 Preview

DETROIT (September 21,1999) - With seven victories, six pole positions and a CART rookie record 929 laps led, it's likely that rookie marvel Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has met or exceeded most of his goals for the 1999 FedEx ...

DETROIT (September 21,1999) - With seven victories, six pole positions and a CART rookie record 929 laps led, it's likely that rookie marvel Juan Montoya of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has met or exceeded most of his goals for the 1999 FedEx Championship Series season. Now, as he heads into the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston (4 p.m. ET Sunday, live, ABC-TV), Montoya is in position to meet the most significant goal of all by winning the FedEx Championship Series title and claiming the PPG Cup.

Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) comes to Houston with a 28-point lead (199-171) over second-place Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) in the FedEx Championship Series points race. If Montoya exits Houston with a lead of 44 or more points, he would make Target/Chip Ganassi Racing the first team in FedEx Championship Series history to win four consecutive championships, following title-winning efforts by Jimmy Vasser in 1996 and Alex Zanardi in 1997 and '98.

If Franchitti goes scoreless in Houston - an admittedly tall order as he is the defending race champion - Montoya could clinch the championship by finishing second, or by finishing third and collecting the bonus points for winning the pole and leading the most laps. A maximum of 44 points would remain in the season's final two events - at Australia (Oct. 17) and California Speedway (Oct. 31) - and Montoya would win any tie-breaker, based on his series-high seven victories.

Franchitti recorded a flag-to-flag victory in last year's inaugural Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, leading all 70 laps of the rain-shortened event. He has posted four of his five career victories on temporary street circuits, including two this season. Those wins came at Toronto, where Franchitti also led flag to flag, and Detroit.

Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), Franchitti's teammate at Team KOOL Green, is the only remaining driver with a mathematical chance to win the championship. He stands third with 134 points and would have to sweep the maximum 66 remaining points while Montoya goes scoreless to have a chance at the title.

Tracy had a strong run going at Houston last year until making contact with Franchitti while attempting to take the lead on Lap 48. The incident damaged Tracy's front suspension and forced him to exit the event.

Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) has finished fourth or better in nine of his 15 previous seasons in the FedEx Championship Series title race. He currently stands fourth with 127 points, and will be looking for a better result for his sponsor than last year at Houston, where he was the first driver to exit due to suspension damage sustained on the second lap.

Following the Texaco Grand Prix of Houston, the FedEx Championship Series continues with its annual trip to Australia for the Honda Indy 300, Sunday, Oct. 17 from Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Queensland.

* Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) has won three of the past four FedEx Championship Series events (Mid-Ohio, Chicago, Vancouver) and has scored PPG Cup points in 13 of 17 starts this season, including five of his past six. He leads the FedEx Championship Series with seven victories and six pole positions and holds a 28-point championship lead (199-171) over Dario Franchitti with three events remaining in the FedEx Championship Series season.

* Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) has scored PPG Cup points in six of his past seven starts with finishes of fifth or better in five of those events. Included are victories at Toronto and Detroit, a runner-up effort at Chicago, third at Mid-Ohio and fifth at Michigan Speedway.

* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) has finished fifth or better in five of his past eight FedEx Championship Series starts, dating to a fifth-place effort at Road America. Included are finishes of fifth at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, fourth at Chicago, site of his first career pole position, and a career-best third at Laguna Seca.

* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) has finished fourth or better in five of his past seven FedEx Championship Series starts, including runner-up efforts at Toronto, Detroit and Mid-Ohio, third at Michigan Speedway and fourth at Laguna Seca. He stands third in the championship with 134 PPG Cup points, his highest total since scoring 152 for Marlboro Team Penske in 1994.

* Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) has finished sixth or better in six of his past seven FedEx Championship Series starts, despite missing four events due to a fractured radius bone in his right wrist. The run includes finishes of fifth at Milwaukee, fourth at Portland, third at Road America, sixth at Toronto and Michigan and fifth in his return from the injury at Laguna Seca. Despite missing events at Detroit, Mid-Ohio, Chicago and Vancouver due to the injury, Fernandez stands fifth in the championship with 105 points.

* Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ltd. Mercedes Reynard) owns points-paying finishes in five of his past six starts, highlighted by a career-best runner-up performance at Vancouver. The run also includes finishes of 11th at Toronto, 10th at Michigan, sixth at Chicago and ninth at Laguna Seca. Carpentier did not compete at Mid-Ohio due to injury.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Alex Zanardi , Chip Ganassi
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing