IRL: Phoenix 200 Preview

Tony Stewart Stewart Leads Big List of Entries for Dura-Lube 200 Pep Boys Indy Racing League points leader Tony Stewart will be a marked man during the Dura-Lube 200 on March 22 at Phoenix International Raceway, as he...

Tony Stewart Stewart Leads Big List of Entries for Dura-Lube 200 Pep Boys Indy Racing League points leader Tony Stewart will be a marked man during the Dura-Lube 200 on March 22 at Phoenix International Raceway, as he leads a list of 33 entries for the race. Stewart entered this season as the driver to beat, as he won the 1996-97 IRL championship in the Team Menard G Force/Aurora/Firestone. He became an even bigger target after dominating and winning the season-opening Indy 200 Presented by Aurora at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 24 near Orlando, Fla. Stewart, from Indianapolis, is no stranger to success on the fast 1-mile oval at Phoenix. He became the first driver to win two features in one day at the Skoal Bandit Copper World Classic on Feb. 1, capturing the USAC Silver Crown and midget features. That successful history is just part of the reason Stewart must be considered a favorite for victory this year. He'll also have plenty of motivation from memories of last year's race. Stewart just missed his first career IRL victory at this event last year, stalking surprise race winner Jim Guthrie over the last few laps of the race and falling just .854 seconds short at the finish line. Stewart was the No. 1 qualifier last year, setting a track record for the new IRL cars of 170.012 mph. Twenty-eight cars will start the 200-lap, 200-mile event at 2 p.m. (MST) March 22. This is the second straight Pep Boys IRL event in which entries exceed available starting positions, creating tense moments during qualifying for drivers competing for the final spots. Oldsmobile pole qualifying starts at noon March 21, with practice beginning at 10:30 a.m. March 20. "Our growth in both the teams and cars is very pleasing," IRL Executive Director Leo Mehl said. "I'm sure it's a result of our policy which guarantees that last year's cars could be updated. However, it's tough to send good drivers home." While Stewart may be the favorite, he's one of many drivers in the loaded field capable of victory. The leading challenger might be Scott Sharp, who was the fastest driver during both days of the "Test in the West" on Feb. 25-26. Sharp set an unofficial track record for the new IRL cars of 174.893 mph on Feb. 26 in the Kelley Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Other top contenders will be Guthrie and his teammate, Jeff Ward, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1996 Dura-Lube 200 winner Arie Luyendyk, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., Phoenix resident Billy Boat, 1996-97 IRL runner-up Davey Hamilton, Jimmy Kite, Mark Dismore, Buzz Calkins, Robbie Buhl, Scott Goodyear, Buddy Lazier, Kenny Brack, Mike Groff, Roberto Guerrero, Raul Boesel and Eddie Cheever Jr. Regardless of who emerges, competition should be tighter than ever. Less than one second separated the top 17 drivers during the "Test in the West." Two promising rookies recently promoted from USAC, J.J. Yeley and Dave Steele, will make their Pep Boys IRL debuts at this event. Yeley, from Phoenix, is driving as a teammate to Dr. Jack Miller for SRS, and Steele is behind the wheel for the new rsm Marko team. The potential for a surprise, first-time winner also looms large at PIR, where pit strategy and a driver's ability to weave through traffic often is as important as raw horsepower. Guthrie's gamble on pit strategy last year paid off, and drivers like Stan Wattles, Tyce Carlson, Dr. Jack Miller, Greg Ray, Sam Schmidt and Stephan Gregoire will try to recapture Guthrie's magic this year.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Jim Guthrie , Scott Goodyear , Roberto Guerrero , Jimmy Kite , Raul Boesel , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , J.J. Yeley , Stan Wattles , Jack Miller