David Reininger - motorsport.com
A. J. Foyt made a formal announcement today regarding the number one driver at A. J. Foyt Racing for next season. Jeff Ward will pilot the No. 14 Harrahs car entered by Foyt for the full Indy Racing League season in 2000. Harrahs, the team's primary sponsor, signed a three-year, multi-million dollar deal with Foyt last June.
"Ward really caught my attention his first year at Indy when he should have won the race," said Foyt. "Every year he has run real good at Indy and he runs real good on the miles. We made the selection earlier this year, I definitely wanted him on our team. I felt he could win for us".
Ward finished in third in his first outing at the Indy 500, earning the 1997 Rookie of the Year title.
A. J. put Ward in his car for a test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in October. "We ran at Indy for a couple of days. I was completely comfortable with the car after seven laps," said Ward. "It was Kenny's (Brack) car, the one that he drove at Indy. The car was setup great and we got along great with the team. They're really excited about having me onboard and I'm really excited about being here. We're going to try as hard as we can to win the championship and win the Indy 500".
Jeff Ward, who won championships in every class of motocross, knew what he wanted to do when he retired from the rough and tumble world of racing dirt bikes. "When I came out of motorcycles I wanted to go racing. I had been to Indy and I wanted to get there. I knew it would be a tough road and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd be signed up with A. J. Foyt to run in the Indy 500. It is a dream come true".
After spending two years in Indy Lights competition, Ward moved onto the big leagues driving for Team Cheever where he was paired with crew chief Mitch Davis. Ward and Davis stayed together, moving to ISM Racing and then onto Pagan Racing for the 1999 season. With the move to Foyt Racing, Ward will have an all new crew for next season.
"I've been around the guys at the race track for years. I've always talked to them and I've known A. J. Foyt's drivers. It wasn't like I came over here and didn't know a soul. They've known me and we gelled right away at the first test. I'm a pretty easy going guy and I'm realistic on things and I don't think we'll have any problems. When I drove their car at Indy, it was a car that I could take out and run the Indy 500 with that day. There was nothing I really had to change."
"There are little changes, like how I sit in the car, but that's what the open tests are for. When we hit Orlando, we should be running smooth."
At the conclusion of last year's race at the Walt Disney World Speedway, Jeff Ward stood on the podium with a third place finish. Don't be surprised if he moves up two steps when the Indy Racing League returns to Orlando on January 29.