IRL: Atlanta race report

By David Reininger - motorsport.com Hampton, Ga. (April 28, 2001) - Greg Ray dominated the zMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway by sitting atop the speed charts in every practice session, scoring the pole position and leading 184 of 200 laps on...

By David Reininger - motorsport.com

Hampton, Ga. (April 28, 2001) - Greg Ray dominated the zMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway by sitting atop the speed charts in every practice session, scoring the pole position and leading 184 of 200 laps on the way to victory. It was Ray's second consecutive win from the pole position at the high banked 1.5-mile superspeedway.

"To have two fairy tale race weekends is very rare," said Ray, driver of the Team Menard Oldsmobile-powered Dallara. "Very rarely does a driver and a team have two races so flawless at a track."

"Well it (the win) means everything because we were beginning to doubt ourselves after not being able to finish a race," said team owner John Menard.

The race was marred by a huge crash, which started mid-pack when Cory Witherhill slowed suddenly. Eight cars were eliminated from competition on lap 54 crash. Al Unser Jr., Davey Hamilton, Jeret Schroeder, Robbie Buhl, Robby McGehee, Cory Witherhill, Jack Miller and Casey Mears were all retired as a result of the accident.

Except for a few minor bruises all of the drivers were uninjured except for Jack Miller. Miller, who was awake and alert at the time of the accident, was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center after suffering a concussion. He will be held overnight for observation.

"I guess it was Cory Witherhill that had the problem," said Al Unser Jr. "It was an engine or something, I don't know but he slowed drastically. He slowed drastically in front of Giaffone and everyone checked up. Somebody hit me from behind, and somebody came over the top of me. Then it was all smoke and flames, and I hit the wall."

Jeret Schroeder narrowly escaped injury when two cars, both in flames, flew over the top of his car. "I ducked but my helmet has soot and burnt oil all over it. Luckily there isn't a scratch on me, but in the middle of the accident all I saw was fire."

Scott Sharp finished second in the Kelley Racing Oldsmobile-powered Dallara sponsored by Delphi Automotive Systems. "We love racing here at Atlanta," said Sharp, who started 13th. "We had a tough weekend. I have to thank the Lord above. He was watching over us today."

"If you would've asked me prior to the race how we were going to do, I wouldn't have said we'd do well at all. My team did a great job; their race strategy was right on."

Sharp's teammate, Mark Dismore, only completed 15 laps and was credited with 26th finishing position.

Buzz Calkins earned his best finish since 1996 when he won at Orlando and finished second at New Hampshire. Calkins started 8th in the Bradley Food Marts Oldsmobile-powered Dallara and stayed with the lead group of cars for the entire race, completing all 200 laps.

"Atlanta is probably the most important lead-in to Indy," said Calkins. "You will get all of your momentum from Atlanta, either positive or negative momentum. If it is negative, then that will affect you the first few days at Indianapolis, at least. If it is positive, you can carry that all month long."

Sam Hornish Jr, who won the first two Indy Racing Northern Light Series races, finished fourth in the Pennzoil Panther Dallara. "We had a second place car and we didn't get it," said Hornish. We're excited about our strong finishes, and we look forward to Indy. I'll trade a win here for a win there."

Eliseo Salazar finished fifth, followed by Buddy Lazier, Jeff Ward and Shigeaki Hattori in 8th. Airton Dare and Felipe Giaffone rounded out the top ten.

The teams of the Northern Light Series head to Indiana for the 85th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Opening day for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is Sunday, May 6.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Casey Mears , Robbie Buhl , Shigeaki Hattori , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Airton Daré , Mark Dismore , Jeret Schroeder , Sam Hornis , Jack Miller