POSTRACE NOTES: LONE STAR 500, SEPT. 20, FORT WORTH, TEXAS THE WINNER: .John Paul Jr.: Paul earned his first open-wheel victory in 15 years and the first of his Pep Boys Indy Racing League career, beating rookie Robby Unser to the line...
POSTRACE NOTES: LONE STAR 500, SEPT. 20, FORT WORTH, TEXAS
THE WINNER: .John Paul Jr.: Paul earned his first open-wheel victory in 15 years and the first of his Pep Boys Indy Racing League career, beating rookie Robby Unser to the line by 1.577 seconds to win the Lone Star 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
It was Paul's first open-wheel victory since the 1983 Michigan 500 and the first for prominent car owner Jonathan Byrd since Arie Luyendyk drove his car to victory in the 1996 Phoenix 200, the second event in Indy Racing League history.
"It's very gratifying to get a chance to win another race after 15 years," Paul said. "On any given day, you have to pull together the car, team, all the elements, and we did today. I'm looking forward to today and the future."
Paul, from W. Palm Beach, Fla., led four times for 31 laps in the Jonathan Byrd's-VisionAire-Bryant Heating & Cooling G Force/Aurora/Firestone. He took the lead for good on Lap 192 of the 1.5-mile quad-oval when leader Jeff Ward entered the pits for a final splash of fuel.
Fuel strategy played a major role in Paul's victory. He made his final stop on Lap 164 of the 208-lap event and patiently worked his way through the field while the other leading cars needed to make late stops for quick gulps of fuel.
Paul also would be the first to admit that luck mixed with a healthy dose of persistence played a major role.
He was racing behind rookie Dave Steele on Lap 40 when Steele's Pennzoil Panther G Force/Aurora/Goodyear suffered a tire problem. Debris from that incident hit Paul's right-side rear-view mirror, shattering it. Paul spent the next few laps under caution tearing jagged pieces from the mirror and placing them in the cockpit, trying to avoid a black flag from Indy Racing League officials due to the damaged mirror. Paul pulled off the mirror and continued without incident. Byrd's son Jon, the team spotter, then helped Paul stay out of trouble for the rest of the race. "That's the world's first 280-pound right-side mirror," Jonathan Byrd said of his son. Jon Byrd helped Paul avoid trouble while leading late in the race. A tire went down on Davey Hamilton's Reebok-Nienhouse Motorsports Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear on Lap 198, causing Hamilton to spin on the front straightaway in front of Paul. The field bunched for the final restart on Lap 203, but Paul pulled away from Unser for the victory despite air temperatures of 95 degrees and track temperatures approaching 140. "I was ready to go again," Paul said. "I had a water bottle on board, but I just wanted to concentrate on driving the car." Paul climbed from 15th to 12th in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League point standings with the victory.
.Robby Unser: Rookie Unser recorded the best finish of his young Pep Boys Indy Racing League career and put a tighter vise on the coveted Rookie of the Year Award by placing second in The Children's Beverage Group-Team Cheever G Force/Aurora/Goodyear.
It was the best finish by a member of the Unser family in open-wheel racing this year.
"It's very important for me to put the Unser name in the winner's column for this season," Unser said. "I think the IRL is a great series with good teams and a lot of strong guys. "More than once I found myself running two-wide, inches off another guy, and you don't see that very often in open-wheel racing." Unser led laps 141-162 but then entered the pits for his final stop. He climbed to second behind Paul when other leading cars needed late fuel stops. Unser never challenged Paul on the final restart on Lap 203 but calmly guided his car to second. "I didn't have a car all day until the end, and we brought it in then," Unser said. "I did have a push all day, but we had a good balance at the end. We had great tires at the end."
.Roberto Guerrero: Veteran Guerrero finished a season-best fourth in a watershed performance for the new Cobb Racing team, the Infiniti engine and himself.
Guerrero's finish in the Cobb Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone was the best finish by an Infiniti-powered car this season and the second-best finish in Indy Racing League history for the powerplant. Guerrero also led twice for 22 laps, the first leading laps by an Infiniti in league history.
The strong finish also was a measure of redemption for Guerrero, who struggled with Pagan Racing and was released in June. He joined Cobb Racing in late July. "It was a great day for us," Guerrero said. "Today we were actually leading the race and in a position to win it. I'm sure glad to be back."
Guerrero raced side-by-side with Jeff Ward on Laps 183 and 184 before surrendering the lead for good. He was forced to make a final splash for fuel on Lap 191.
"It really came down to the fuel strategy," Guerrero said. "It's always a gamble, and we gambled the wrong way. We can't complain. We ran competitively all day. We got the checkered flag.
"That was the goal, and the rest was a bonus."
.Jeff Ward: Once again, Ward came so close to winning his first career Pep Boys Indy Racing League event, only to fall short with a third-place finish.
Ward led three times for 16 laps in the Thermo Tech-Prolong-Superflo G Force/Aurora/Goodyear, taking the lead for the last time on Lap 183 a thrilling, side-by-side duel with Roberto Guerrero.
He kept the lead until Lap 191, when he was forced to make a quick fuel stop. He surrendered the lead for keeps to eventual winner John Paul Jr.
Ward lost a lap during the pit stop but sliced through the field and nearly returned to the lead lap when the final caution flag of the event flew on Lap 198. Ward did return to the lead lap on Lap 204, but there wasn't enough time to charge toward Paul and rookie Robby Unser.
"I was the fastest guy on the track," Ward said. "I got caught with a blistered rear tire. I was in position to get my lap back from John Paul right before the yellow, which would've brought us around to the front. That would've set us up for a hell of a finish.
"If we run like this at every race next year, we'll win the championship.
Ward climbed from sixth to fifth in the series point standings.
THE REST OF THE STORY: .Brack zeroes in on title: Kenny Brack lost the battle at Texas, but it looks increasingly like he'll win the war. Brack's record three-race winning streak ended at this event with a fifth-place finish in the A.J. Foyt-Power Team Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. But he extended his points lead over Davey Hamilton to 31 and needs to finish only seventh or better at the season-ending Las Vegas 500 on Oct. 11 to clinch his first league championship and the Pep Boys Million. "It was good for the championship," Brack said. "We lengthened our lead, which helps to eliminate our risk." Brack never led a lap but was in the top 10 all day. "I stayed conservative all day because of the tires," Brack said. "I pushed it a little harder at the end, but we just didn't have it. I felt it was a race of survival, and that's not how I like to race."
.Hamilton stays alive: Persistence pays. Just ask Indy Racing League Davey Hamilton and the Nienhouse Motorsports team. Hamilton and the Nienhouse team overcame numerous problems, including a late tire problem that led to a spin, to finish ninth in the Reebok-Nienhouse Motorsports Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Hamilton, who trailed leader Kenny Brack by 23 points entering the race, trails by only 31 entering the season finale Oct. 11 at Las Vegas. He and Tony Stewart remain the only drivers mathematically eligible to challenge Brack for the championship. Tire problems plagued Hamilton starting on Lap 16. He never fully recovered. But he scrambled back from as far as 17th on Lap 50 before the spin on Lap 198. Luckily, Hamilton spun on the front straightaway adjacent to pit road. The Nienhouse team scurried out to the crippled car, pushed it into the pits so the rear end was against the wall, perpendicular to the pit wall, and changed the tire. Hamilton then returned to the race, finishing after one more stop for tires. "We're still in it," Hamilton said of the championship race. "My hat goes off to my pit crew. We lost ground to Kenny going into Las Vegas, and that hurts. But we've got to stay focused and do our job. We'll see how things shake out in Vegas."
.Boat does best Two-Step: Billy Boat finished 14th in the Conseco-A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, but he still brought home the biggest paycheck of the race, $170,400. That's because pole sitter Boat earned enough points to claim a $100,000 bonus for winning the Texas Two-Step Championship. The driver who scored the most points in the two Pep Boys Indy Racing League events this season at Texas Motor Speedway - this race and the True Value 500 on June 6 - won the bonus. Boat, who won the True Value 500, scored 73 combined points to win the Two-Step. His teammate, Kenny Brack, finished second with 65 points and earned a $50,000 bonus. "$100,000 is not bad to take home," Boat said.
.Medical update: Driver Marco Greco was released in good condition Monday morning from Parkland Hospital in Dallas after suffering a concussion in a multicar accident on Lap 134. Greco was alert and talking during transportation to Parkland for evaluation and tests.
.Pennzoil extends deal with league: Pennzoil agreed to a three-year extension of its contract as the Official Motor Oil of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League and has become the Official Motor Oil of the United States Auto Club, Pennzoil, IRL and USAC officials announced Sept. 18. As part of the announcement, the Pennzoil Panther Racing Indy Racing League team also announced that it would provide an Indy Racing League rookie test to the season champions in the top three USAC divisions -- Silver Crown, sprint and midget - in early December at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If the champion already has his league license, the next highest-finishing eligible driver in the point standings will earn the test. Pennzoil also will continue its title sponsorship of the USAC Indiana Sprint Week.
.Riley & Scott unveils unique program: Officials from Riley & Scott, Inc., and its racing division, R&S Cars, Inc., announced plans for its Team Owner Alliance Program, which will start in 1999.
Alliance members will receive reduced pricing on two new R&S MK V Indy Racing League cars and enter into a racing services agreement with R&S cars. Under the racing services agreement, R&S will provide engines, engineering, data systems, spares, crew members, pit equipment and transporters. Each Alliance owner will provide a driver, primary sponsor and direct the team's race day strategy.
Primary sponsors on each car also will receive associate sponsorship programs on all other alliance cars. Brant Motorsports has become the first team to commit to the program.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES: .Billy Boat won his third consecutive PPG Pole and fifth of the season, both league records.
.Kenny Brack became the second driver to surpass $1 million in league earnings this season. Brack has pocketed $1,054,500 this year. Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. leads the money list at $1,755,500.
.Tony Stewart passed pole sitter Billy Boat in Turn 1 of the first lap and kept it through Lap 27. It was the sixth consecutive Pep Boys Indy Racing League event in which the pole sitter hasn't led the first lap.
THE NEXT EVENT: Oct. 11, Las Vegas 500, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada.