IRL: Jeret Schroeder post best finish at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, April 22 - Despite a bad push most of the day and a cut tire when he unavoidably ran over debris when two other drivers crashed, rookie Jeret Schroeder posted the best finish of his young Indy Racing Northern Light career by...

LAS VEGAS, April 22 - Despite a bad push most of the day and a cut tire when he unavoidably ran over debris when two other drivers crashed, rookie Jeret Schroeder posted the best finish of his young Indy Racing Northern Light career by bringing the Armour Swift-Eckrich/tristarmall.com Dallara Aurora home fourth Saturday afternoon in the Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Vineland, N.J. driver is now tenth in the series' overall point standings going into the world's biggest and richest auto race, the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 28. He also leads the series' Rookie of the Year point standings by three points over Sam Hornish Jr., who also had the best race of his young Indy Racing Northern Light Series career by finishing third Saturday. The race was won by two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. over polesitter Mark Dismore, Hornish, Schroeder and the overall series point leader, Robbie Buhl. Schroeder got fourth from Buhl with a nifty pass to the inside going into turn three just eight laps from the checkered in the 208-lap race on LVMS's 1.5-mile superspeedway. Robby McGehee, Billy Boat, Tyce Carlson, Greg Ray and Jaques Lazier rounded out the top 10. Although the fourth-place finish was indeed fabulous, Schroeder had his hands full all day due to a pushing condition. "I don't know why it pushed more today than it did in practice, but I think the wind was a factor," Schroeder explained. "We kept making adjustments to the front wing and I kept playing with the bar, but it pushed all day. For some reason my car doesn't seem to like to follow other cars; that seems to make the push worse." Tires were the big factor for Schroeder on Saturday though. He got a bad set on his first pitstop on lap 35 and dropped as far back as 15th at one point. After getting a better set on a subsequent pitstop he worked his way back up to the top 10, where he ran most of the race. He had just made a regular pitstop on lap 124 for fresh tires when Eliseo Salazar and Sarah Fisher tangled on lap 127 in turn four right in front of him and hit the outside retaining wall. Thanks to Schroeder's quick reaction time and help from spotter Brendan Cunnane he missed getting involved in the accident, but he couldn't avoid running over some debris from the crash. The debris punctured his right-front tire and he was forced to make an unscheduled pitstop on lap 131 to change that and also have the Tri Star Motorsports team examine the other three tires. Schroeder came in one more time under that yellow on lap 134 so the crew could check the engine, but that problem turned out to be a false alarm. Perseverance paid off when neither Schroeder nor the team panicked but kept right on trying, and soon the Armour Swift-Eckrich #6 was back in the top 10. Schroeder steadily worked his way up even higher on the podium and he was helped when some of the other drivers ran into trouble in the late stages of the race. Buhl was very aggressive in defending his position but Schroeder got by him with less than 10 laps to go, and he crossed the line in fourth. All in all Schroeder made seven pitstops during the race, almost double that of the winner. "Overall I'm very happy we could get the Armour Swift-Eckrich/tristarmall.com car to a top-five finish today," Schroeder said. "I feel it was capable of a podium finish and with a little bit of luck we would have been there, but overall I'm very happy. Fourth is our best finish ever and this is my first race ever here at Vegas, so I have to be pleased. We're still in the lead in the rookie point standings, and it gives us great momentum going into Indy. "We struggled with a push all day. We got a bad set of tires after the first pitstop that actually lost stagger. We kept going backwards at that point and we had a couple of close calls there when I got caught out high and out in the marbles, but we kept it together and worked our way back up to fourth. "What really set us back was when we cut our right-front tire when we ran over some debris from the Salazar/Fisher accident. We had just pitted and then we had to come back in and change that brand-new tire and check all the other ones over, and that really hurt us. We had a little miscommunication about when to pit once today too because of static on the radio one time. "After we changed those tires things got better. Although we had a push all day, we adjusted the wing on our stops and every set of Firestone tires was better than the one before. The ones we had on at the end were the best set. "There at the end I had a run on Buhl on the outside and he kept drifting out on me. At one point I was in the gray, but finally the rear caught and we were OK. That was my closest call. "My goal before the race was to take the checkered on the lead lap. I didn't actually accomplish that, but overall I'm really happy. Our first priority it always to finish, and we did that." Schroeder, Buhl, Boat and Eddie Cheever Jr. are the only drivers to be running at the finish in all three Indy Racing Northern Light Series races so far this year. "Overall I'm really happy," Schroeder concluded, "and I can't wait for Indy!" Team co-owner, former IRL champion and current NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart perhaps summarized things best when he noted, "We've got a driver there in Jeret Schroeder. He did a great job today!"

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Jeret Schroeder , Tyce Carlson , Sam Hornish Jr. , Jaques Lazier