IRL: Points race tight before Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier can rest a bit easy going into the Chevy 500 on Oct. 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, but there is plenty of nail biting going on among the Indy Racing Northern Light ...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier can rest a bit easy going into the Chevy 500 on Oct. 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, but there is plenty of nail biting going on among the Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers tightly lined up behind them in the points standings. A quick glance at the Indy Racing point standings heading into the season finale at the ultra-competitive 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth, Texas, tells the story. Only 39 points separate positions three through six. Positions seven through 10 are only 37 points apart. The entire second half of the top 20 - positions 11 through 20 - are a mere 44 points apart. Since the Indy Racing League points system is designed to reward winning, expect drivers to be racing on the edge at Texas to move up in the points. The reward will be a larger bonus check at the Indy Racing Awards Ceremony on Oct. 7 at Texas. Money is not the only consideration, however, because the third-place finisher in points could receive an invitation to the prestigious 2002 True Value International Race of Champions (IROC) series, as well. Hornish, who has earned 451 points to date with consistent finishes and two early-season victories, clinched the 2001 Northern Light Cup championship and $1-million bonus by finishing second Sept. 2 at Chicagoland Speedway in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, while Lazier, driver of the No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, is guaranteed to finish second in the points thanks to four wins in a five-race span in the middle of the season. Hornish became the first driver ever to clinch the Indy Racing championship before the final race of the season in this, his first year driving with Panther Racing. But the points picture is much more unclear throughout the rest of the top 20, and Scott Sharp is the first person in a long line of drivers that needs a fine finish at the Chevy 500 to maintain position in the points. Sharp, who drives the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone for Kelley Racing, is third and has 315 points on the season, only 20 points ahead of veteran Billy Boat and rookie Felipe Giaffone, who are tied for fourth. Boat and Giaffone have scored second-place finishes this year and are hungry for a victory. If either wins for the first time this season or Sharp falters, count on a shuffle in the season-ending standings. All three of those drivers are chasing a prestigious IROC bid. The top three drivers from the 2000 points race were presented invitations for this year's True Value IROC series, racing's "all-star game." An IROC invitation is on the line for Sharp, Boat, Giaffone and Eliseo Salazar, who is only 39 points behind Sharp in sixth place and could vault into third with a good finish in the Chevy 500. A close race for the remaining top 10 positions also is developing, with only 37 points separating two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. in seventh and 1996 Indy Racing co-champion Buzz Calkins in 10th. In the middle of that mix is 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., eighth with 249 points. In the six-year history of the Indy Racing League, Cheever has finished outside the top-10 in points at season's end only once, when he finished 16th in the three-race 1996 season. Cheever was a contender for the 2000 championship going into the season finale at Texas but finished third behind Lazier and Scott Goodyear, who won the race to claim second in the points. The championship has been decided, but the Indy Racing season is far from over. As the Chevy 500 unfolds beginning at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 6, expect the points standings - and the running order - to change lap after lap.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing