HAMILTON FACES FAMILIAR SITUATION IN TITLE QUEST AT VEGAS LAS VEGAS, Sept. 25, 1998 -- If anyone in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League could say "been there, done that," it would be driver Davey Hamilton. As the season winds down...
HAMILTON FACES FAMILIAR SITUATION IN TITLE QUEST AT VEGAS
LAS VEGAS, Sept. 25, 1998 -- If anyone in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League could say "been there, done that," it would be driver Davey Hamilton.
As the season winds down to its finale at the Las Vegas 500K on Oct. 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamilton finds himself in exactly the same position as Oct. 11, 1997. He's second in the standings, needing victory and a poor finish by the leader to win the championship.
This year that title is worth $1 million, the Pep Boys Million. The race starts at 1 p.m. (PDT) on the 1.5-mile oval.
"I'm going to Vegas to win," Hamilton said emphatically.
Hamilton had the same intentions last year. But he finished seventh while Tony Stewart struggled to an 11th place. Stewart led Hamilton by 10 points going in, won the championship by six.
This year, Hamilton faces an even stiffer challenge. Swedish driver Kenny Brack leads the points race by 31 (312-281) and can clinch his first title by placing seventh or better.
Under this year's scoring system, the race winner earns 50 points. The top three qualifiers receive three, two and one points, respectively, while the driver leading the most laps also gets two points. Hamilton's maximum point intake is 55.
"At least we're in that position," said Hamilton, a native of Boise, Idaho, who lives in Las Vegas. "Second place is nothing to sneeze at."
There's a lot of irony involved in Hamilton's situation.
Last year at this time, Hamilton drove the Power Team G Force/Aurora/Goodyear for racing legend A.J. Foyt. This October, he must beat Foyt's Power Team car driven by Brack.
This all happened because Foyt parted company with his pair of 1997 drivers -- Hamilton and Scott Sharp -- in favor of Brack and Billy Boat. Brack came over from Rick Galles' team, while the Bob Nienhouse team that was Galles' team under new ownership picked up Hamilton later. In baseball parlance, it would have been called a trade or, at least, free agents switching teams.
Brack drove in only seven races last season and finished 19th in the standings with 139 points. He led 33 laps and had a top finish of fifth at Charlotte and New Hampshire.
Hamilton continues his remarkable record of consistency. In 10 races last season he had only three finishes below seventh, but none better than third (three times). Other than a 26th at Phoenix, this season he has no finish below ninth.
But he has no victories.
Fate during the Lone Star 500 on Sept. 20 at Texas Motor Speedway saved a ninth-place finish and five extra points for Davey Hamilton. He experienced tire problems during the race yet still had himself in contention to catch Brack in the closing laps. Then as he came down the main straight to complete Lap 197, problems struck again.
Hamilton's right rear tire deflated, and he turned the wheel to the left to spin his Reebok-Nienhouse Motorsports Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear away from the wall. The car made a 180-degree turn, the nose barely missing hard-charging eventual winner John Paul Jr. The car then slid rear-end first off the racing surface onto the grassy area past the start-finish line. When it came to a halt his car was barely 30 feet from his pit, located first in the line at the pit exit.
As the crowd cheered, his crew rushed out, pushed the car into the pit with the rear facing the pit wall and quickly changed the two rear tires. He rejoined the field at the end of pack without losing a position. Then he returned a few laps later for a full set of fresh tires.
If Hamilton had this trouble about anywhere else on the track, he probably would have been out of the race and finished 13th instead of ninth.
Those extra five points could become pivotal at Las Vegas.
"I didn't do anything," Hamilton said about steering the car backward into such an advantageous place.
"When I turned left, I gassed it. I knew John Paul was behind me, and I didn't want to mess him up. I thought for sure he would be out of the deal. We lucked out. I'm very proud of this Nienhouse and Reebok team. It's their first year, and I'm very happy for them."
The team still has the Galles touch. Rick remains as general manager and son Jamie is team manager.
Hamilton reiterated that his only goal at Las Vegas is to win.
"We lost ground to Kenny and that hurts," he said, "but we've got to stay focused and do our job. We'll see how things shake out at Vegas."
Like a pair of dice. Maybe, he hopes, he'll throw a seven and Brack will toss snake eyes.
LAS VEGAS 500K NOTEBOOK
The third annual Las Vegas 500K is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 11. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon (PDT) Oct. 10.
Pep Boys Indy Racing League practice sessions will take place at 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 9, and 8:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. (PDT) Oct. 10.
The Las Vegas 500K will be televised live on TNN at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 11. A same-day delayed telecast of PPG Pole qualifying will be shown on SpeedVision at 9 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 10.
The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 11, with a pre-race show starting at 3:30 p.m.
Brack, fan could share $1 million:
If Kenny Brack wins the Las Vegas 500K, he will split $1 million with a lucky fan through the MCI Pep Boys Million contest.
Brack won the first two races of the contest series, the Atlanta 500 Classic presented by MCI on Aug. 29 and the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte, N.C., to ensure that he and a fan will split at least $100,000. Fans must choose the driver who they think will win all three races in the series. The contest is open at Pep Boys stores through Oct. 5 or via the Internet at www.mciracing.com or http://www.pepboys.com/promo/entry.htm through Oct. 10.
The choice of driver is easy: Kenny Brack.
Big bucks on the line for Brack: Pep Boys Indy Racing League points leader Kenny Brack could bring home more than $1.6 million if he wins the Las Vegas 500K on Oct. 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A breakdown:
O $1 million: Pep Boys Million to the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion.
O $500,000: Brack's share of the MCI Pep Boys Million for winning races this season at Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta and Las Vegas. The other $500,000 goes to a fan who picked Brack to sweep the races.
O At least $100,000: The winner's purse at every Pep Boys Indy Racing League event this year has been at least $100,000.
Tickets: Tickets for the Las Vegas 500K are available by calling Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4443.