ATLANTA, July 15 - The first 37 laps of Saturday night's 208-lap Midas 500 Classic at Atlanta Motor Speedway were fabulous for Jeret Schroeder fans. The Vineland, N.J.-based Indy Racing Northern Light driver blasted from sixth starting...
ATLANTA, July 15 - The first 37 laps of Saturday night's 208-lap Midas 500 Classic at Atlanta Motor Speedway were fabulous for Jeret Schroeder fans. The Vineland, N.J.-based Indy Racing Northern Light driver blasted from sixth starting spot to third and everything was going smoothly for the Tri Star Motorsports/Kroger Dallara Aurora #6 team.
Unfortunately it didn't last.
Schroeder slowed on the backstretch on lap 38 while running third behind polesitter and eventual winner Greg Ray and Donnie Beechler. He radioed that he had no power and the Dallara's fuel pressure alarm had gone off. He coasted to the entrance of the pits to await the Tri Star crew, who quickly poured over the car to investigate.
At first they thought they might just be able to replace the car's fuel pump in the garage area and return to the race, but upon further investigation they determined it was a terminal engine problem and they posted their first DNF of the season.
Schroeder's official order of finish was 24th in the 25-car field with 37 laps completed.
Going into the race only Schroeder and Eddie Cheever Jr. had finished every Indy Racing Northern Light race so far this season. That streak ended for both of them because Cheever went out with engine problems too on lap 97.
The good news is that Schroeder is still in the lead in the racesearch.com Rookie of the Year point standings by five points over Airton Dare, 118 to 113. Dare had closed to just four points before Saturday night's race but he was the first driver out, also succumbing to engine problems. The driver who is third in the rookie standings, Sam Hornish Jr., didn't compete at Atlanta.
Schroeder slipped from 11th to 15th in the standings for the Northern Light Cup national championship. Dare is right behind him in the overall championship standings too in 16th position with two races remaining: Kentucky Speedway Aug. 27 and Texas Motor Speedway Oct. 15.
Ray dominated the race, leading 182 laps. Buddy Lazier finished second followed by Al Unser Jr., Robby McGehee, Beechler, Robbie Buhl, Stephan Gregoire, Billy Boat, top-finishing rookie Shigeaki Hattori and Eliseo Salazar.
But at least in the early going Saturday Schroeder certainly was a contender. After starting sixth, he charged by both Sarah Fisher and Jeff Ward and was fourth by the end of lap one. He then passed Salazar, and by lap 10 he was engaged in a torrid wheel-to-wheel battle with Buhl, who was either right behind him or right beside him for several laps.
The first yellow waved on lap 13 when Dare spun on the frontstretch in his own oil when his engine blew, which gave Tri Star engineer Larry Curry and Schroeder time to converse on the radio about how the car was performing.
"It has a minimal push; I couldn't get in Beechler's draft because of Buhl, but I think when the sun goes down we're going to be in great shape," Schroeder reported.
Curry agreed, and told his young driver that he was doing a good job and that he hoped the track would come to them as the race progressed.
The race restarted on lap 20 and Schroeder stayed in third behind leader Ray and Beechler. On lap 27 Schroeder was just .818 of a second behind the leader. He slowed on the backstretch on lap 38 and two laps later the yellow flew for Scott Harrington, who stopped in the inside of turn one with electrical problems. That gave the Tri Star team a few extra seconds if repairs would have been possible, but they quickly determined that the engine problem was terminal.
In addition to Schroeder, other drivers who dropped out with engine problems included Harrington, Mark Dismore, Ward, Cheever, Stevie Reeves, Buzz Calkins and Dare.
The racesearch.com Rookie of the Year award winner and where Schroeder will finish in the national championship will all depend on how things play out in Kentucky and Texas.
"It was disappointing for sure, because the Tri Star Motorsports team gave me a great car tonight and I really think we could have won," Schroeder said. "It was our first DNF of th e season, and you have to take the bad with the good. I'm looking forward to going to Kentucky, which is a brand-new track, and returning to Texas. We'll just have to keep focused and try our best. It's not over until it's over!"
The race was broadcast live on ESPN.