IRL: Las Vegas road to championship

For Immediate Release ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP (NOTE: Tony Stewart leads Davey Hamilton, 254-244 in 1996-97 (Indy Racing League driver points going into the season-closing Las Vegas 500k Oct. 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Team Menard ...

For Immediate Release

ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

(NOTE: Tony Stewart leads Davey Hamilton, 254-244 in 1996-97 (Indy Racing League driver points going into the season-closing Las Vegas 500k Oct. 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Team Menard (Stewart) leads A.J. Foyt Enterprises (Hamilton), 2,286-2,196 for the entrant title. This is the second in a three-part series with the thoughts of the principals going into the final challenge.)

THE TEAM MANAGERS

LARRY CURRY (Team Menard director of racing, who started his Indy-style career in 1977 with Hoffman Racing and driver Larry "Boom Boom" Cannon in 1977 at Michigan): (about his closest previous chance at a title): "With Arie (Luyendyk) and Hemelgarn Racing, we went into the last race of the season in '87 fourth in points. We didn't have a chance of winning the championship but could've finished second. We hadn't crashed a car since the beginning of the season and we were No. 1 in miles completed and laps completed for the year. We crashed three cars -- every car we had -- and finished seventh in points." (about the current title chase): "I want to win it for John (Menard) and for all the sponsors who've supported us, for the guys on our team. This is the first 'true' season. This is a championship that will include 10 races. That's a pretty good grind. To think we're approaching the last race of the year and we're in the hunt speaks highly for the team. We were hot the first half of the season in qualifying. The second half of the season has been really good for us." (about being far back earlier): "I kept looking at the points and even though we weren't winning races, we had a good chance to win. We were still scoring high enough. We knew when we got in the top three, if we did our job, we had a legitimate chance." (about the effect of the team's first win at Pikes Peak): "The win in Colorado Springs took some pressure off. Regardless if we wanted to admit it or not, we were thinking, 'When's this gonna stop?' We were leading all the laps, winning all the poles. (At Pikes Peak), we led 193 laps. I didn't want to win the first race by backing into it. I was happy it worked out that way There'd been so many times we had the dominant car and didn't get to finish it." (about the Las Vegas 500k): "It's going to be very special for me personally. To put it in perspective, there's two things everyone wants to do -- win an Indy 500 and win a championship. Indy's gone. We have to wait for next year at Indy. This is our big accomplishment for the year. I'm telling the team, 'You gotta go with what got you here.' Now is not the time to change strategy. We're going to come here and try to win the pole and we're going to try to win the race."

LARRY CURRY: (about competing against the Foyt team): "It's fitting for these two to go for it. A.J. Foyt was my hero growing up and into the sport. I thought he could walk on water when I was a kid. I've been to every Indy 500 since 1964. He won in '64 so he immediately became my hero. If I went somewhere like Milwaukee, if he dropped out of the race, I left. For me, inside, it's a big deal. He's the guy standing in the way of us completing the job...his team. And now, we gotta go beat that team. When we won the race at Pikes Peak, he was the very first to come across the wall and shake my hand. That kind of stuff means a lot to me." (has he talked to Foyt about the title race?): "We haven't talked one word about it and we have to garage next to each other and pit next to each other. I don't think (we will talk). I'm sure he wants to win it every bit as bad as I do. I don't want Davey to have any trouble. I don't want Tony to have any trouble. I want it to finish on the race track. It's going to be fun. We have so much to look forward to coming here for the race."

TOMMY LAMANCE (team manager, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, who started working in the Foyt shop at age 16, became a full-time crew member at 21 and now, at 28, has been team manager since 1994): (comparing the 1996 IRL championship with this year's point race): "Last year, it was a little bit different because Indy was the main focus. Buzz (Calkins) and Scott (Sharp) tying, the #11 car winning the entrant title...that made me go away from Indy with a neat feeling." (about the team alignment and strategy): "A.J. will stay on the #1 car (Billy Boat and I'll be on #14 (Hamilton). We'll approach this like every other race. We'll come here to win the race and we'll make decisions based on winning the race. Everything else will fall where it falls. I think it's going to be in my mind. I'm going to be running two races. I'll be running the Las Vegas 500 race and I'll be running the IRL championship race. I'll be watching Tony (Stewart) and every move he makes. We'll be pitting next to each other so both teams will know what the other is doing. Knowing what we have to do, that's what we'll do. The game plan can change from lap to lap." (about Hamilton's string of high finishes): "It was a good string we got on. It goes back to the guys at the shop and the team, the overall maintenance and preparation. It's something we can be proud of. I think we've completed the most miles. If you can finish the season with the most miles, that's something to be proud of." (about Charlotte and the accident that took out Hamilton and Roberto Guerrero, enabling Stewart to take the point lead): "I've looked at the tapes over and over and that was a racing accident all the way. As much as one car moved up, the other moved down. Both Davey and Roberto were having good runs. That was an unfortunate thing." (about Hamilton having a possible advantage because he works at the track): "I think it is (an advantage). Davey has a very good comfort level here. Not only is he familiar with the track and the surroundings, he'll be living at home, going to sleep in his own bed. It's home cookin' and Davey's at home."

TOMMY LAMANCE: (about races during the season in which Hamilton could have gained his first win): "There's one, I think, we should've won and I think it'll surprise people what one it is -- Disney World this year. Davey made two pit stops under the green at Disney World and the lap after them, the yellow came out. He lost two laps because of that. We finished the race one lap down and lost two in the pits. A lap here, a lap there, we would've been right on it. At Phoenix, we just didn't have quite enough at the end of the race. Anytime you put my guy in second place with 10 laps to go on a restart, we have a chance to win." (about Hamilton and Stewart being teammates on Foyt's Silver Crown team): "I think it shows a little bit of irony -- two guys out there fighting tooth and nail to be the IRL champion, then going to St. Louis next week and be teammates. They're race drivers, friends and competitors. Tony wants to beat us over here and we want to beat him, for bragging rights around the shop. I enjoy it. I get to work with both of them." (about AJ Foyt Enterprises vs. Team Menard): "I think with the formation of Team Menard back when they ran Indy only, they had their hearts broken time after time. They'd lead and something would happen. To be able to go up and race with those guys...between AJ Foyt Enterprises and Team Menard, they have set the standards for the IRL. Going up against Larry (Curry) and Tony, it sets up a good challenge. I have to do everything right to beat them. They have to do everything right to beat us. I look to Larry a lot for guidance and answers. He's experienced things I haven't. I respect him."

...97IRL-41...

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