LAS VEGAS, Saturday, April 22, 2000 - Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. ended a five-year open wheel losing streak Saturday by winning the Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unser drove his backup Galles ECR...
LAS VEGAS, Saturday, April 22, 2000 - Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. ended a five-year open wheel losing streak Saturday by winning the Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unser drove his backup Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com-Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone car from 21st place to victory lane, becoming the third straight driver to win in Indy Racing Northern Light Series competition from beyond 20th starting position. "My crew had everything to do with it," said a tearful Unser in victory lane. "We never gave up. We fought really hard and got our lap back. I had my head down all the way to the checkered flag." The 38-year-old Unser took the checkered flag by 12.531 seconds over pole-sitter Mark Dismore. He averaged 136.691 mph in the 208-lap race around the 1.5-mile LVMS tri-oval, leading the final 20 laps. Unser Jr. moved from CART to the Northern Light Series and reunited with former car owner and fellow Albuquerque, N.M., native Rick Galles for the 2000 season. "When Roger (Penske) made the announcement in Detroit about his two drivers, Rick Galles called me the next day. There are people in this world that never give up on you, and Rick Galles is one of those people." Unser's winning pass came over one of his long-time Indy Racing competitors - Scott Goodyear. Goodyear's Pennzoil Panther Dallara was leading when a loose oil fitting ended his chances for a win. "I was hoping this race would give us the opportunity to go to Indy No. 1 in the point standings," said Goodyear. "We ran into some oil problems near the end, but my guys did a fabulous job." Unser Jr. zippped by Goodyear, who finished 12th, on Lap 188 and cruised to his first open wheel victory since a Vancouver CART race in 1995. Dismore, who hugged Unser in victory lane and said, "Welcome back!" to his new rival, led the most laps (90) on his way to second place. Though dominant early, Dismore lost track position when he pitted under green flag conditions. Sam Hornish Jr. shadowed Unser the last twenty laps in third place, but one lap down. Hornish, a rookie from Defiance, Ohio, finished third in a 1999 model G Force chassis. "We actually came out here to just try and stay in the top 10," said Hornish. "It was a great day. I never expected any of this." Brazilian rookie Airton Dare appeared to have control of the race when he pitted on Lap 171 during a caution period. His day ended on pit lane when he lost the gearbox upon engaging the clutch. He had led 13 laps. "I went for first, and the gearbox broke," said Dare. "I don't know. I didn't have any gears." Unser Jr. and Dismore were the only drivers to finish on the lead lap. Rounding out the top five behind Hornish were Jeret Schroeder, another series rookie, and Robbie Buhl. With his finish, Buhl moved back into the points lead with 108. Following Buhl are Buddy Lazier (98), Goodyear (90), Unser (77) and Billy Boat (76). The Vegas Indy 300 had 11 lead changes among seven drivers. There were seven cautions, five caused by accidents. No one was injured. The next Indy Racing Northern Light Series event is the 84th Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
AL UNSER JR. (Winner): "My crew had everything to do with it. We never gave up. We fought really hard and got our lap back. I had my head down all the way to the checkered flag. So many things can happen. The white flag doesn't mean anything. I tell you it's just been a tough weekend. Joining the IRL and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, it's a tough series. It took us three races to win." (About the momentum this will give you going into Indy): "This is what it's all about, to win the race right before the Indy 500. That's what we really need. The people that really know are my bosses. When Roger (Penske) made the announcement in Detroit about his two drivers, Rick Galles called me the next day. There are people in this world that never give up on you and Rick Galles is one of those people." (About the Indy Racing Northern Light Series): "The series is very, very competitive and this is just the start of it." (About daughter Cody being your inspiration): "Cody's problem is a very serious illness. She's lost two inches of her spinal cord. The challenges that are in front of her everyday life are much greater than the challenges that I've had out here today. (About moving to Las Vegas area): "We haven't closed on my house here yet. We'll probably close sometime in May. It's just great to be able to call this place home and my home track. Next year, we'll be able to sleep in our own beds." (About carrying momentum on track): "It's big. The momentum factor is big. The horsepower is not that great on these cars. If you lift just a little bit, you lose a lot of ground. You really have to anticipate traffic and how to set up the cars in front of you." (About Indy 500 strategy): "Right now the strategy is to go there, sit on the pole, lead every session, lead every day. Everybody has the same thing (equipment) out there. You look for that little bit to make a difference. The whole thing is about being consistent and not over thinking." (About radio communication when Scott Goodyear encountered his problem late in the race.): "The last thing I wanted at that point was a yellow. I kept saying, 'Get the black flag out, get the black flag out.' I didn't want to see the yellow come out and have Mark Dismore close up behind me."
RICK GALLES (Team owner of Galles ECR Racing): "I can't tell you how I feel. I just have to compliment the guys. They pulled out the backup car without a mile on it. This was the first win for Al and I on Firestone tires. Al did a great job getting that lap back. There is a certain leadership that Al brings to the team. I'm really thrilled about our victory here today." (About getting a lap back): "The only way we get a lap back is to be fast. We were able to pass two leaders and then a couple of them (leaders) had to make pit stops. We were gaining on Scott (Goodyear). I don't know if we would have caught him if he hadn't had his problem."
MARK DISMORE (Second-place finisher): "I'm just happy to be there at the end. We've had our problems this season, but today everything worked out OK. We rule by committee on our pit strategy. I stand beside my guy's decision. We ran hard today and put together a string of 204s. We're going to Indy with a lot of momentum. Today was great. I'm happy for Little Al. He deserved this. He's been going to a gunfight with a knife. Today he finally got a gun."
SAM HORNISH JR. (Third-place finisher): "We actually came out here to just try and stay in the top 10. It was a great day. I never expected any of this. We knew running the '99 car we would have trouble in qualifying, but that we could make up some ground in the race." (About racing up front with fellow rookie Airton Dare): "Both of us gave each other enough room. It was fun racing with him because we both came from similar forms of racing. It's just a shame we weren't on the same lap. At that point, we were trying to get one of our laps back. (About racing with Al Unser Jr.): "There at the end I was just cruising behind Al. I didn't want to push the issue because I had enough of a lead over Schroeder in fourth. But I think I could have passed him if I needed to. I just want to thank all the guys. I didn't have a problem all day in the pits." (About running in traffic): "The car had a pretty big push when I was in traffic. By myself, the car was perfect. And I think it showed when I was lead car in the pack."
ROBBIE BUHL (Current series points leader): "We were really good yesterday morning, but the car kind of got a way from us during qualifications. Something changed in qualifying. We didn't have what we thought we were going to have. I didn't like what we had in the full tank session. It was a good race car today. We've got to find that little bit to get up there to the front. We got stuck out on that one pit stop. We were committed to coming in when it went yellow so we just came in for a splash of fuel. The way (Sam) Hornish (Jr.) went by us in that old car. That guy did a great job today. He was flying."
SCOTT GOODYEAR (Lead until Lap 188): "I look at this race like a mini-Indianapolis 500 because of the traffic and competitive racing. I was hoping this race would give us the opportunity to go to Indy number one in the points standings. We ran into some oil pressure problems near the end due to a loose fitting, but my guys did a fabulous job."
AIRTON DARE (Series rookie, led Laps 159-171): "I went for first gear and the gearbox broke. I don't know. I didn't have any gears. The car was so good. I wasn't pushing the car as hard as I could. The car was perfect. (Did you have fun before dropping out of the race?): "It's not fun now but it was fun while it lasted."
NORTHERN LIGHT INDY RACING LEAGUE POINT STANDINGS (After three of 10 races) 1. Robbie Buhl 108 2. Buddy Lazier 98 3. Scott Goodyear 90 4. Al Unser Jr. 77 5. Billy Boat 76 6. Mark Dismore 75 7. Eliseo Salazar 74 Eddie Cheever Jr. 74 9. Donnie Beechler 67 10. Jeret Schroeder 61
*Unser is the third-consecutive Northern Light Series winner to start from 21st position or higher.
*Unser is the second-consecutive driver to win using his backup car. Buddy Lazier used his backup car to win at Phoenix International Raceway March 19, after starting 26th and last.
*Sam Hornish Jr.'s third-place finish is the best of his Northern Light Series career. Hornish's previous best was 17th at Phoenix in March. Hornish is a rookie.
*Jeret Schroeder's fourth-place finish is also his Northern Light Series career-best. His previous best was 12th at Phoenix in March. Schroeder is also a rookie this season.
*Billy Boat, Robbie Buhl, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Jeret Schroeder are the only drivers to be running at the finish in all three Northern Light Series events this season.
*Robbie Buhl and Billy Boat are the only drivers to have finished in the Top 10 in all three events this season.
*This is the fourth time in five Las Vegas events that a Northern Light Series driver has earned his first-career victory.
FACTS AND FIGURES:
*The Vegas Indy 300 was Al Unser Jr.'s third Indy Racing Northern Light Series start.
*Unser is the 18th winner in the 37 Northern Light Series events run to date.
*The Vegas Indy 300 is his first win in Northern Light Series competition. He now unofficially stands fourth in the season point standings.
*This is team owner Rick Galles' first win in the Northern Light Series.
*The Vegas Indy 300 is Unser's 32nd Indy-style racing win.
*Unser is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner (1992, 1994).