IRL: Atlanta qualifying story

David Reininger - Hampton, Ga. (July 14, 2000) - Qualifying in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series consists of each driver taking two consecutive laps around the speedway, but Greg Ray only needed one lap to take the pole ...

David Reininger -

Hampton, Ga. (July 14, 2000) - Qualifying in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series consists of each driver taking two consecutive laps around the speedway, but Greg Ray only needed one lap to take the pole position for Saturday night's Midas 500 Classic at Atlanta Motor Speedway. After turning a lap three miles an hour faster than outside polesitter Eliseo Salazar, Ray drove his Conseco/Quaker State/Menard Oldsmobile-powered Dallara to the pits where he was greeted by his jubilant crew.

Ray's ninth career pole surpasses Billy Boat and Tony Stewart for most career poles in Indy Racing Northern Light competition. Boat was the defending polesitter at last year's race at Atlanta.

This is Ray's 19th top-five start, tying Tony Stewart and Mark Dismore for the most top-five starts in IRL competition.

"Team Menard has been doing a great job all year long. We haven't had the race results that we would have liked to have this year," said Ray, who currently resides in 18th place in the championship standings.

Ray was fastest in yesterday's practice sessions and in the first practice session today. "We did 214 (mph) in practice, and they started to want to make some changes. I said, 'No, no, no.' We gambled on those changes and they worked. Our lap exceeded our expectations"

A. J. Foyt teammates Eliseo Salazar and Jeff Ward qualified second and fourth, respectively. "It's going to be very important to start up front in a race that is going to be a repeat of Texas," Salazar said. "Starting up front will make things a little easier, at least for the first five laps. After that, pit stops will play a role. That lead group that you saw at Texas, it's fun to watch, but it's really hairy." With three races left, Salazar, who is currently sixth in the championship, is counting his points. "Second is all right. I would love to be on the pole, but two points in the championship means I'm only 23 points out of the lead."

Donnie Beechler was the surprise of the day when he qualified his Cahill Racing Oldsmobile-powered Dallara in the third starting position.

The Cahill crew will make some minor changes to Beechler's car before tomorrow night's race. Most teams will add downforce to the cars to improve handling in traffic. "We'll put our race setup on and put more grip in the car. As far as our balance goes, I think we'll leave it the same," said Beechler, who has Darrell Soppe as his race engineer.

"If you know Darrell's background, he's been at the Speedway several years with Mario (Andretti) and Rick Mears. He brings a lot of knowledge and overall common sense to how these things work. Back in 1998, I didn't step into a team that was already organized and functioning. I was just as much of a rookie as my whole team was. We've come a long way since 1998. To have Darrell come on board and direct our team, in the direction he feels it needs to be going, he's done an amazing job for us. Darrell fits our mold and we're delighted to have him

Sarah Fisher and Jeret Schroeder, both rookies, will start side by side in row three. Fisher nipped Schroeder by .017 second to take the fifth starting position. Neither driver tested at Atlanta, yet both were pleased with their baseline setups.

"It's great for us to come right out of the box and be so fast," Fisher said. "I've never been around here before this weekend."

Fisher has run twice at Texas Motor Speedway, a sister track to the 1.54 mile Atlanta track. "Texas is quite familiar to me, and Atlanta is so similar to Texas that it definitely helps us going into this event. We're really happy with our run."

Schroeder, one of five rookies in the race, looks forward to tomorrow's race. "We didn't test here so we had to come out of the box and hope we had a decent starting spot, which we did. Tristar Motorsports and Larry Curry, they have the experience, they know which direction we need to go. Larry gives me a great car every time I get on the track. This is definitely going to be a good race. Hopefully we can pick up some more speed and have a good finish."

Notes: Raul Boesel is an interested spectator at this weekend's Midas Classic 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Boesel is still trying to find a competitive ride. Jaques Lazier, Sam Hornish Jr. and Alex Barron are also visiting the garage area this weekend.

Duane "Pancho" Carter has taken over the spotting duties for Scott Goodyear from Pennzoil Panther Racing team co-owner Doug Boles. Boles will concentrate on sponsor relations during race weekends.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eliseo Salazar , Jeff Ward , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Jeret Schroeder , Jaques Lazier  , Raul Boesel , Donnie Beechler , Alex Barron , Rick Mears , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing