IRL: Charlotte Thursday Practice and Qualifying Story Charlotte, NC (July 23, 1998) - Twenty four teams took up residence in the garage as the second annual VisionAire 500 got under way at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite being on track just...
IRL: Charlotte Thursday Practice and Qualifying Story
Charlotte, NC (July 23, 1998) - Twenty four teams took up residence in the garage as the second annual VisionAire 500 got under way at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite being on track just four days ago at Dover Downs, a full field of 24 cars were presented for practice. "The fact they have 24 cars here after Dover shows how committed they (the teams) are," said CMS President and General Manager H.A. Wheeler.
Kenny Brack set the pace during the first practice session, with a lap of 24.880 seconds and a speed of 217.042 mph. "It's going very well," Brack said. "A.J. knows how to set these cars up, so we were good from the beginning. We'll be quicker when it cools off." In the second session, Brack improved his time by eight hundreths of a second but was bested by Tony Stewart who bettered his morning time by three tenths of a second. Stewart's fast practice time of the day was 24.606 seconds, 217.042.
Stewart, who returned to the Dallara chassis this weekend, remained on top through qualifying, with a record setting pole speed of 220.498 mph, the first time anybody has run over 220 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first six cars on the grid broke the existing track record. Stewart expects race speeds to be even higher, as cars work in each others draft. "When you're running flat out around a race track, any time you can get behind somebody it helps you out."
Greg Ray joins Stewart on the front row, with a speed of 219.995 mph. This is Ray's second front row start this season. Ray's Foyt teammate Kenny Brack was third quickest qualifier, with a speed of 219.521 mph. The top three cars on the grid all qualified within a tenth of a second.
After a two race hiatus, Pagan racing returns to IRL competition with Stevie Reeves as their new driver. The two-time national midget champion is returning to open wheelers after five years of NASCAR Busch Grand National. He expects the transition to Indy cars to be much smoother than his transition to the stock cars. Although Reeves makes his IRL Pep Boys debut at this event, he has more experience at CMS than any other driver in the field. He made eight starts at CMS while competing in the Busch series.
Steve Knapp was in the garage area today, still sitting out the IRL's mandatory seven day wait after suffering a mild concussion in last weekend's race at Dover Downs. This was the first time that Knapp, 1998 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, had been hurt in a race car. He said that at Dover "I got back to the track right away to try to con Dr. Bock into giving me some leeway, but he explained to me why it's not safe for you to do it." Knapp will be back at Pike's Peak.
Returning to IRL competition is Jimmy Kite, in Sinden Racing Service's Dallara-Infiniti. Jimmy, who led last year's race until a cut tire put him out, thoroughly enjoys Charlotte and said that he would be here even if he weren't driving. He will be in two races: Friday night's USAC midget event, as well as the VisionAire 500. He admits that landing the IRL ride has changed his driving plans for the midget race: "I'm still going to run hard, but I can't go and do anything stupid and get myself hurt."
Kite failed to turn any competitive laps today, as his crew spent most of the day preparing the car. He will take a provisional starting position.
Donnie Beechler will also take a provisional, after blowing an engine in this afternoon's practice session.
Sam Schmidt lost his engine on his first practice lap today, but his team was able to replace it in time to present the car for qualifying. Without a systems check, Sam ran a lap of 191.829 mph to place 22nd on the grid. Sam is racing for a very special cause this weekend. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, seven year old Matthew Tyler, who has a rare form of cancer, will be the recipient of pledges donated for every lap that Sam completes during the 208 lap VisionAire 500. To join Sam in his efforts, you can make a pledge by calling 704-847-8840 or a donation by calling 704-339-0334.
Ken Plotkin - Motorsport News International Contributing to this story was David Reininger
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