PHOENIX, March 19 - In only the second Indy Racing Northern Light race of the year, rookie Jeret Schroeder of Vineland, N.J. ran in the top-five for most of the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday afternoon with...
PHOENIX, March 19 - In only the second Indy Racing Northern Light race of the year, rookie Jeret Schroeder of Vineland, N.J. ran in the top-five for most of the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday afternoon with Tri Star Motorsports' Armour Swift-Eckrich/tristarmall.com Dallara Aurora #6. His last pitstop was completed and he was dicing with Scott Goodyear for third with 40 laps to go when he had a racing incident with Eddie Cheever that damaged his car's front wing and forced him to pit and lose several laps while repairs were made. He returned to the fray to take the checkered, but the top-five finish that seemed assured just moments earlier turned into a 12th-place finish in the overall standings.
Still, Schroeder was the top-qualifying rookie here and the top-finishing rookie in the race, and he is now leading the point standings for the series' Rookie of the Year award with 29 points. Airton Dare and Niclas Jonsson are tied for second with 27 points; Sam Hornish Jr. is fourth with 23 points; Doug Didiero is fifth with 21 points and Sarah Fisher is sixth with 17 points. Schroeder is 14th in the overall driver standings and his team, Tri Star Motorsports, is in the same position in the entrant standings.
"I'm disappointed; I'm frustrated; I'm heartbroken; I'm just everything right now," said Schroeder after climbing out of the cockpit of the 2000 Dallara. "I had fourth place and I might have been even higher because some guys hadn't pitted yet and we had our last pitstop behind us. It was just a racing incident and I'm glad we're the top rookie, but it was really disappointing that the Armour Swift-Eckrich car didn't come home in the top-five today."
Schroeder, who qualified fifth and won $2,500 for being the top-qualifying rookie, ran in the top five until Robby McGehee hit the wall in turn two on lap 30 while leading, which moved Schroeder up to fourth. Three laps later Greg Ray pitted which moved Schroeder up to third, which was the highest position that the #6 climbed to on the scoring pylon Sunday. Schroeder made his first pitstop on lap 33 which moved him back to ninth, but he steadily moved up and he was sixth on lap 62, still on the lead lap, and by lap 87 he was back in fifth.
He was still a solid fifth at the half-way point, running comfortably behind leader Scott Sharp, Greg Ray, Mark Dismore and Goodyear, with Cheever behind him in sixth. On the very next lap he made his second pitstop for fresh Firestones, fuel and a little adjustment to his front wing to remedy a little push the car had developed. He was back in the top-10 14 trips around the 1-mile oval later, and by lap 148 he passed Billy Boat and was back in fifth again, once more chasing Goodyear.
His final pitstop for four Firestones and fuel came on lap 155 under a yellow for Sam Hornish Jr.'s spin in turn two. It went flawlessly, but the incident that proved to be so costly occurred right after the restart on lap 160.
"I passed Cheever on the backstretch," Schroeder related. "I think I had a little faster car than Goodyear's, but I wasn't quite fast enough to get around him. Cheever was on the outside of me. Goodyear and I got slowed up just a little after the turn-in of turn three because of traffic in front of him, and there just wasn't enough room for all of us to fit into turn three and Cheever's left rear hit my right front wing. It was a racing incident, and we came up the worse for it."
Schroeder slowed but made it back to the pits under his own power. A blue front wing was borrowed from the neighboring Hubbard-Immke team of Tyce Carlson and the Tri Star team made other repairs to the car's suspension so Schroeder could return to the race on lap 179 and take the checkered 21 laps later, but he lost several laps in the pits and dropped to 12th overall.
Buddy Lazier won the race, while the driver that Schroeder battled most of the day, Goodyear, finished second.
"The Tri Star Motorsports team gave me a great car today and we had great pitstops," Schroeder noted. "We had better stagger with each pitstop for tires. We added a little front wing once and that was all; they gave me a great car here this weekend. We had a top-five car here for sure.
"I thought for the most part everybody was driving pretty clean, and from my helmet's viewpoint it was a really good race," he added. "I just wish we could have finished higher, but I think they all knew we were here today. I'm glad we were the top rookie, but I want a good finish in this Northern Light championship too. We'll get 'em next time, I guess!"
Battling with Goodyear for a top-five position here Sunday was a bit ironic. In his second IRL race ever three years ago, which occurred here at Phoenix, it was Goodyear who blew an engine while Schroeder was behind him which sent Schroeder spinning in his oil and into the turn-one wall, and subsequently to the hospital for an overnight stay. When asked if he thought of that at all during the race, Schroeder admitted it had crossed his mind, and noted that at least Sunday's outcome was more pleasant than that earlier visit here.
The 200-lap race was broadcast live on ABC.
The next Indy Racing Northern Light race is April 22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That's the final tune-up for the 2000 edition of the world's largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500, on May 28. Traditionally teams which do well at Phoenix also do well at Indy each year, which is a positive omen for young Schroeder.