POSTRACE NOTES: PEP BOYS 400K, JULY 19, DOVER, DEL. THE WINNER: --Scott Sharp: Sharp led 145 laps - the second-highest total by a race winner in Pep Boys Indy Racing League history - and held off hard-charging Buddy Lazier to win the...
POSTRACE NOTES: PEP BOYS 400K, JULY 19, DOVER, DEL.
--Scott Sharp: Sharp led 145 laps - the second-highest total by a race winner in Pep Boys Indy Racing League history - and held off hard-charging Buddy Lazier to win the Pep Boys 400K, the sixth race of the 1998 season. Sharp took the points lead for the first time this season after earning his second victory of the year in the Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. It was his third career IRL win.
Sharp beat runner-up Lazier by .689 of a second, as Lazier was forced to lock up his brakes in a puff of tire smoke at the finish line to avoid hitting the rear of Sharp's car. Sharp took the lead for good on Lap 203 of the 248 trips around the tough, high-banked concrete oval.
The track known as the "Monster Mile" lived up to its nickname during the IRL's inaugural visit, as only 10 cars were running at the finish. Sharp and Lazier were the only cars on the lead lap.
"I figured out it was the 'Monster Mile' after about 40 laps," Sharp said. "I knew it was going to be a race of attrition.
"The crew did a great job. I think Tony (Stewart) had a quicker car. I knew he would be my main competition. I didn't think we would be able to lasso it in today."
Sharp qualified fourth and showed early patience, waiting to take the lead until zipping past Stewart in Turn 1 of Lap 86. Sharp then began to flex the muscle of his car, leading 145 of the next 162 laps while avoiding trouble and traffic.
Sharp took a 202-194 lead over Stewart in the season point standings and the chase for the season-ending Pep Boys Million.
--Buddy Lazier: Lazier tied his season-best finish by falling just .689 of a second short of winner Scott Sharp.
He took the lead on Lap 196 when Sharp made his final pit stop. Lazier led in the Hemelgarn Racing-Delta Faucet-Coors Light Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear until Sharp passed him with a low move in Turn 1 on Lap 203.
Lazier began to fade over the final laps, falling 4.046 seconds behind Sharp on Lap 233. But he made a spirited charge over the last 15 laps, nearly catching Sharp on the final straightaway dash to the checkered flag. Lazier gave the crowd and his crew a heart-stopping moment when he locked up his brakes just past the finish line, trying to avoid hitting Sharp.
"At the end of the race, I didn't slow down until after I had passed the start-finish line, and then I couldn't lift when I went over the line" Lazier said. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, this won't be good. I'm going to finish and collect both first and second.'"
Lazier's performance was impressive considering he qualified 14th, his second-worst start of the season. He now is one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, climbing from 11th to fifth in the Pep Boys IRL point standings in the last three races.
The combination of extreme g-forces and concrete surface also tested the strength of Lazier's back, still feeling the effects of a crash in 1996 at Phoenix. But he hung tough.
"I told my guys before the race that I hoped my back wouldn't let us down today," Lazier said. "I'm going to have an operation at the end of the year that will make it 80 percent better, but until then I have to be careful."
--Tony Stewart: For the third time in the last four races, Stewart appeared to be a prime contender for victory when mechanical problems ended any shot at earning the winner's check.
Stewart was pursuing leader Sharp when he suddenly slowed in Turn 2 on Lap 170. He was forced to stay in the pits until the leaders finished Lap 197, as the Team Menard crew worked to replace broken parts on the right rear of his car.
Defending Pep Boys IRL champion Stewart returned to the track to reduce his points' losses to eventual winner Sharp. Stewart's rear-end problem returned with one lap remaining, but his extra effort paid off. Sharp took the lead by only eight points as Stewart finished eighth.
"I'm more proud of this crew than anybody," Stewart said. "They worked their butt off to get us back in this race. That's what it takes to win championships."
The rear-end problem was one of many woes to hit Stewart. He was forced to enter the pits numerous times starting on Lap 109 so the crew could tape his dashboard back to the front of the cockpit. The mounting brackets holding up the dashboard broke during the race.
Stewart led three times for 85 laps, second only to winner Sharp. The race was eerily reminiscent of the Indianapolis 500 and the True Value 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. He led at Indy and was ready to make a charge toward the front after a pit stop in Texas when mechanical gremlins struck.
THE REST OF THE STORY:
--Greco emerges: Marco Greco finished a career-best third in the International Sports Ltd.-Mexmil G Force/Aurora/Firestone, finishing two laps down.
Greco recorded the strong finish despite starting 21st. He earned $5,000 and the new MBNA Charging Through the Field Award for making the greatest advance of any driver in the starting lineup. But the low qualifying spot was misleading. Greco was one of the fastest cars during practice but suffered mechanical problems during qualifying and pulled off the track during his warm-up laps. He was the fourth-fastest driver during the final practice.
"We're not a very big team," Greco said. "They did a great job for me. I stayed out of trouble, skipping to the left and skipping to the right. God helped me to have a great race today."
--New surroundings: Jim Guthrie and Greg Ray had mixed results in their debuts with new teams. Guthrie finished a season-best seventh in his debut with CBR-Cobb Racing. It was his first race since suffering injuries in a crash during the Indianapolis 500.
Ray finished 15th in his debut as a substitute driver of the Conseco-A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, but that statistic is a bit misleading. Ray was in the top five when he and Eddie Cheever Jr. collided in Turn 2 of Lap 95, ending the day for both. Ray and Cheever were unhurt.
Ray will continue to drive for Foyt while Billy Boat recuperates from a broken leg and pelvis suffered in the New England 200 on June 28 at Loudon, N.H.
--Medical update: Eliseo Salazar is in fair condition at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after suffering a broken right hip, pelvis, right leg and right arm in a crash during practice Saturday. Salazar underwent eight hours of surgery July 20 and should be released within five to seven days.
Rookie Andy Michner will replace Salazar behind the wheel of the Reebok R&S MK V Riley & Scott/Aurora/Goodyear at the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Fellow rookie Robby Unser suffered a broken left foot in a crash during the race in his The Children's Beverage Group-Team Cheever G Force/Aurora/Goodyear. He was released from Kent General Hospital in Dover, Del.
Unser, the leading rookie points earner this season, was in the top five when he crashed.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES:
--Scott Sharp became the third driver to earn three career IRL victories. Arie Luyendyk won the Dura-Lube 200 in 1996 at Phoenix, and last year he won the Indianapolis 500 and the True Value 500 at Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Stewart won the Samsonite 200 in June 1997 at Fountain, Colo., the Indy 200 in January 1998 at Orlando, Fla., and the New England 200 in June 1998 in Loudon, N.H.
--Arie Luyendyk and Buddy Lazier are in a tight race to become the first drivers to earn $3 million during their Pep Boys IRL career. Luyendyk has earned $2,923,053 since the league's first race in January 1996, while Lazier has taken home $2,893,604.
--Raul Boesel led seven laps, the first laps he has led since joining the Pep Boys IRL this season.
THE NEXT EVENT:
July 25, VisionAire 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.