IRL: Phoenix Pole Qualifying Story

WARD EARNS FIRST CAREER PEP BOYS IRL POLE AT DURA-LUBE 200 PHOENIX, March 21, 1998 - Jeff Ward earned his first career Pep Boys Indy Racing League pole Saturday during qualifying for the Dura-Lube 200, leading the closest field in league...

WARD EARNS FIRST CAREER PEP BOYS IRL POLE AT DURA-LUBE 200

PHOENIX, March 21, 1998 - Jeff Ward earned his first career Pep Boys Indy Racing League pole Saturday during qualifying for the Dura-Lube 200, leading the closest field in league history with a lap of 20.839 seconds, 172.753 mph at Phoenix International Raceway.

Ward, 1997 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, broke the track record for the new IRL cars of 170.012 set by Tony Stewart on the 1-mile oval in 1997. Ward's previous best starting position was seventh at the 1997 Indianapolis 500.

The 200-lap race starts at 2 p.m. (MST) Sunday. It's the second race of the 1998 Pep Boys IRL season. Ward's best qualifying lap in the Team Tabasco/ISM Racing G Force/Aurora/Goodyear was just 1.026 seconds quicker than No. 26 qualifier Paul Durant. The average speed for the 28-car field - Tyce Carlson and rookie Brian Tyler were added as provisional starters -- was 169.008 mph, nearly 6 mph faster than last year.

"I don't see anyone running away with the race tomorrow," said Ward, a former AMA motocross national champion. "All the times are pretty close. I love the heat, so I hope it's hot tomorrow."

Billy Boat was second at 20.867, 172.521 in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Points leader Tony Stewart was third at 20.869, 172.505 in the Glidden/Menards G Force/Aurora/Firestone.

Defending race champion Jim Guthrie, Ward's teammate, was one of four drivers who failed to qualify. Guthrie's car had mechanical problems during the morning practice, hurting his qualifying efforts. Dr. Jack Miller, Robbie Groff and Stan Wattles also failed to qualify.

All three rookies entered in the field, USAC standouts J.J. Yeley, David Steele and Tyler, qualified. Yeley was the leading rookie, 10th at 21.163, 170.108 in the Quaker State/Menards Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Steele made a dramatic qualifying effort, taking the 23rd spot at 21.809, 165.069 in the rsm Marko Dallara/Aurora/Firestone just three hours after crashing in the morning practice session. Steele's team scrambled to repair a broken gearbox and left rear suspension on his car just in time to make the final qualifying attempt of the day.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jeff Ward , Billy Boat , Jim Guthrie , Tyce Carlson , J.J. Yeley , Brian Tyler , Stan Wattles