It's not over until it's over! It was a third place podium finish for Jaques and the Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew, but with no podium, literally. Backing up a bit, just prior to the practice session before qualifying, we made a change from an ...
It's not over until it's over! It was a third place podium finish for Jaques and the Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew, but with no podium, literally.
Backing up a bit, just prior to the practice session before qualifying, we made a change from an Ilmore prepared engine assembly to one prepared by Comptech for the purpose of a little research. The practice session was peppered with mini-rain showers that prohibited us from getting a solid series of laps in before qualifying. With too much drag in the car, we would qualify 14th for the inaugural Harrah's Indy 200.
A meeting of the minds prior to the final practice, a few changes and we left the garage area that night fifth on the speed chart for the day. When Sam asked for a show of hands of anybody that wanted to do an engine change that night, there were none.
The race got off to a great start. Jaques went from 14th to 4th in 42 laps. It's really a thing of beauty to watch your driver, pass car, after car, after car. It's great fun to watch how everyone handles the pressure of running up front. Some of the guys get really wired with a lot of adrenaline pumping. Come time for pit stops, they are either overly cautious or clearing the pit stop wall in a single bound. But no matter how keyed up, the crew pulled it together from some terrific pit stops that certainly complemented the job that Jaques was doing on track.
On the final pit stop, the decision was made to add fuel only. With only a few laps to go, the gamble on the tires was beginning to show. Jaques' brother Buddy, leading the race, was still in pursuit to put him a lap down and although he got close, Buddy never lapped Jaques. Unfortunately, just as Buddy took the checkered flag, Jaques with three turns remaining in his race had the right rear tire break loose that sent him crashing into the wall. Because Jaques had already lapped Robby McGehee, Jaques was awarded the finishing positions of third.
In the pits, it all happened so quickly. We saw the checkered flag fly, there was a moment of rejoicing and then just as quickly, we saw Jaques in the wall on the big screen TV. As always, the first question is if he is okay? Once we knew he was out of the car, the second question was about where he had actually finished. When I arrived at the medical center, Angelique, Sam and Kate were only a moment behind. We all got the news together that he indeed was "P3", but we also knew that the tub had been destroyed.
Released from the medical center in good order, we all went to the media center for post race interviews. After a few questions about the dramatic finish, Jaques was asked to explain about the recent rise of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Jaques, giving the credit to his crew replied, "This is the hardest working crew I have ever seen. They genuinely are here to win races. They have the biggest hearts and they give this effort their all. As for me, I believe that communication on a crew is key. Having worked with engineer Tim Neff before and raced with Sam, we already had a foundation to build from and I just believe that we have a great package."
Given the hard season this debut team has had with the tough luck at Indy and Davey's injury in Texas, Jaques has brought a boost of energy. He too, genuinely wants to win races. For this team motorsports is not just a paycheck, it's a sport. We come to compete. The call on the tires may have been risky and in hindsight, everyone agrees that we probably should not have peeled out from the pits, but none of us go to the race track to finish second.
Finishing third was really terrific. The fact that Nashville and severally other tracks don't honor the full podium in victory circle; no fan fare, no trophy, and the knowledge that the tub was damaged beyond repair left Sam, Jaques and the team with a bittersweet feeling. Clint Cary, the vent and air jack man said it best late in the evening, "I just thought third would feel better than this!"
If nothing else, we have proved what we knew was possible all the time. The #99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special is capable of winning races. We've done so on a lot less funding than most and if you think we were determined before, just wait until Kentucky!