FOUNTAIN, Colo., Sunday, June 18, 2000 - Eddie Cheever Jr. ended 33 races of frustration for the Nissan Infiniti engine program Sunday as the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion drove an Infiniti-powered car to victory for the first time in Indy...
FOUNTAIN, Colo., Sunday, June 18, 2000 - Eddie Cheever Jr. ended 33 races of frustration for the Nissan Infiniti engine program Sunday as the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion drove an Infiniti-powered car to victory for the first time in Indy Racing Northern Light Series history.
Cheever, driving the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone, claimed an overwhelming win in the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. He not only earned his fourth career Indy Racing victory, but also took over the lead in the chase for the Northern Light Cup that pays $1 million to the 2000 series champion. He has 176 points.
Buddy Lazier, who led the point standings at the start of the Radisson Indy 200, dropped out of competition on the first lap with an engine failure. He follows Cheever with 168 points. Cheever, who earned $124,400 for his victory, took the checkered flag under a yellow flag. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. and Donnie Beechler crashed into the Turn 2 wall just an instant before Cheever crossed the start-finish line to take the white flag. Beechler was racing Scott Sharp for third place.
Cheever averaged 135.230 mph in a race that had five cautions covering 27 laps. He has finished every race this season and has completed the most laps, 1,207.
"Today I had an advantage and that advantage was the powerplant in the back of my car," said Cheever, who won the third segment of the IROC series at Michigan Speedway 10 days ago.
"I kept expecting somebody to come charging through. I don't have much of a story to tell. The car was great in traffic and at the end it all came down to handling."
Cheever said that the race was so uneventful for him that as he neared the finish line he played mind games to maintain his attention.
The victory provided a double honor for Cheever. He also won the first race for Oldsmobile when the switch was made to the 4.0-liter, normally aspirated engine for the Jan. 25, 1997, event at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla.
Cheever switched to an Infiniti engine prior to the 1999 Indy 500 and was the sole campaigner of that engine through most of last season and the first part of 2000. Robbie Buhl joined Cheever as driver of an Infiniti-powered car after this year's Indianapolis 500.
Buhl started on the outside of the front row and zipped past pole-sitter Greg Ray on the start and led the first 61 laps. But on Lap 62 smoke poured from the back of his Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone and his day was done.
Scott Sharp, winner of the previous week's Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, assumed the lead when Buhl fell out and set a strong pace through Lap 133 when Cheever charged to the front for the first time. Beechler moved into the lead in his Cahill Racing
Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone when Cheever pitted. Sharp took over the lead on Lap 147, teammate Mark Dismore on Lap 152 and finally it became Stephan Gregoire's turn to hold off Cheever by taking the lead on Lap 155. He did the job for 17 laps before Cheever took the lead for good on Lap 172.
Cheever became the sixth different Northern Light Series winner this season.
Brazilian Airton Dare scored his best finish to date in his rookie season in the Uproar.com/TeamXtreme/G Force.
Sharp, driving the Delphi Automotive Systems/MCI WorldCom Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, and teammate Mark Dismore, pilot of the On Star/GM BuyPower Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, took third and fourth respectively, while Beechler rounded out the top five despite his crash.
Unser Jr., racing for the first time at Pikes Peak International Raceway, hung onto 10th despite the mishap with Beechler. Denver's Buzz Calkins took 12th place and also turned the race's fastest lap of 167.131 mph on Lap 185.
Greg Ray, the MBNA Pole winner and defending Radisson Indy 200 winner, crashed exiting Turn 4 on Lap 96 and placed 20th. Sarah Fisher spun and backed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 5 and finished 25th. No one was injured in any of the accidents.
Rounding out the top five in points are Sharp in third place with 159, Scott Goodyear in fouth with 156 and Mark Dismore in fifth with 155.
The next Indy Racing Northern Light Series event is the Midas 500 Classic at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 8 p.m. (EDT) on July 15.