IRL: Atlanta Ray dominates Midas 500 Classic

HAMPTON, Ga., Saturday, July 15, 2000 -- Defending champion Greg Ray stormed around Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday to win the Midas 500 Classic, becoming the seventh winner in seven Indy Racing Northern Light Series races this year. ...

HAMPTON, Ga., Saturday, July 15, 2000 -- Defending champion Greg Ray stormed around Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday to win the Midas 500 Classic, becoming the seventh winner in seven Indy Racing Northern Light Series races this year. Ray dominated the race in the bright sunshine when the race began, later in the twilight and then under the round Georgia moon, rocketing to the checkered flag by 3.054 seconds. The margin would have been greater except for an accident 14 laps from the finish. When the green waved to start Lap 199, Ray blasted away from the field and left former Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Lazier and Al Unser Jr. to battle for second place. Lazier held off Unser by a half carlength and regained the points lead in the race for the Northern Light Cup. Rounding out the top five were Robby McGehee and Donnie Beechler. Beechler turned the fastest lap of the race, 214.626 mph, on Lap 76. Ray, who captured the pole with a stunning 216.014-mph lap, was clocked at 212.691 in his Conseco/Quaker State/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone machine on the 208th and final lap. That would have been good enough for fifth place in qualifying. Defending series champion Ray, who earned $143,400, became the first driver to win from the pole this season and the first to do it since he accomplished the feat twice last year at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The victory ended a season of frustration for Ray. He had finished no better than ninth in the previous six races. “I’ll tell you, Team Menard has been working so hard all year long,” said an ecstatic Ray. “These guys deserved this result. “Pikes Peak (last race), I was really down. I thought I had the car to win there, and I made a big mistake trying to pass when I shouldn’t have. So we went back to details and started working on pit stops and all the small things. We quit worrying about the big things and focused on the details, focused on execution. The big things always take care of themselves.” Team Menard decided to, as he put it, throw all of their eggs into one basket, which was the engine. The team used the same engine for both qualifying and the race. “The car was superb,” Ray said. “It was fun to drive.” An indication of his dominance was that he led 182 of the 208 laps, including the last 48. He averaged 153.403 mph, slowed by 41 laps of caution. Ray quickly regained the lead whenever he slipped positions during pit stops. And when Ray led during caution periods, he concentrated on making good restarts. No one stayed with him when he punched the throttle. Lazier and Unser, who started 24th, fought a terrific duel for the runner-up spot in the closing laps following the final caution, but Unser couldn’t quite get by Lazier. It was Unser’s first race at Atlanta since 1983, his rookie season in Indy Racing. “Nothing was going to catch Greg Ray,” Unser said. “He was just too fast.” Added Lazier about Ray: “He was awfully strong. We’re all going back to work. I promise you we’ll make up the margin (before the next race, The Belterra Resort Indy 300 on Aug. 27 at Kentucky Speedway).” Lazier regained the lead for the $1 million Northern Light Cup with 208 points. Eddie Cheever Jr., the leader coming in, fell out after 96 laps with an engine problem but hung onto second in the points with 185. Scott Goodyear is third at 175, and Eliseo Salazar and Scott Sharp are tied for fourth at 173. Unser climbed to sixth with 170. Ray, who collected the maximum 55 points by winning the pole, leading the most laps and winning the race, leapfrogged from 19th to 11th with 138 points. Ray joins Robbie Buhl, Lazier, Sharp, Unser, Cheever and Juan Montoya as race winners this season.

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POST-RACE QUOTES:

GREG RAY: “Team Menard has been working so hard all year long. These guys deserve better results. We went back to details, working on the small things. We stopped worrying about the big things. The big things take care of themselves. The guys did a great job. We made some big changes from qualifying to the race, and it worked out for us. This Menard car was a missile, and it was fun to drive. It wasn’t a draft like it was in Texas. I ran a lot different lines than the other cars. I don’t know why they ran where they were. We just do the best job we can with the race car. We have two more to go. Maybe we can save face by winning two more races to end the year. It was fun. I had a great car. It was fun to drive. I listened to my spotter. The problem out there tonight was with running multiple lines. In Texas, we (field) were quick on the draft. And here, we tried to run too wide. Our focus tonight was to be quick on the restart. The car was superb, and I only wish to have a car as good as this every race. We need to focus on details and execution.” (About the car’s setup): “I made a few adjustments, and the track did change a little bit as the night went on. We made our adjustments, and the car got better and better.” (About winning first race after winning many poles this season): “It is very satisfying. My expectations of myself are to go out there and do my best. The object of any game is to always go out there and win. Based on past success, we may have put the cart in front of the horse too many times. But now we went back to the basics. This was a total team effort. It didn’t come down to one thing. Everyone did their job perfectly. So things went well tonight.” (About last 30 laps of race): “The last 30 laps seemed like it took a year to finish. The difference between Pikes Peak and here, where maybe I faltered earlier and let Mark Dismore come sweeping across my bow, was that I let the other drivers know my intentions that I wasn’t going to let up tonight. That’s the difference between a hero and a zero. Some guy sinks a three-pointer, and he’s a hero, while another guy shoots an air ball, and he’s considered a loser. We had some calculated risks tonight. We certainly had some early problems in the pits, but we recovered well. It was the outstanding preparation and attitude of all our crew that led to our success tonight.” (About pit-stop strategy): “I don’t think we did anything extreme. I think we raced a smart race. I think it was a team effort tonight. There was no doubt that we had a great motor. From within the team, we’ve made a lot of changes from qualifying to the actual race.” (About parity in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series): “There is not a two-time winner yet this season. On any given night, it could be anyone because of the equipment and cars. If you miss a little, you’re not going to be on pace. It’s one of those things that, ‘What comes around, goes around.’”

BUDDY LAZIER: “It was a good night for us. It was a hard-fought battle. We were running wide open, lap after lap. The key tonight was staying within the draft. With 20 laps to go, during the restart, we lost the draft, and Greg Ray pulled away. Our car was really good tonight. We ran fantastic tonight. This track was a little different than Texas. Handling definitely came into play tonight. This was a great race tonight. When you’re racing wheel to wheel, I really do enjoy racing with Little Al (Unser). He’s such a great professional.”

AL UNSER JR.: “I just want to thank my team for tonight’s effort. They put me up front on the first pit stop. My car definitely ran better than the qualifying effort. It was a long night for us. We were basically trying to stay out of trouble. The yellows helped me out quite a bit. The first pit (stop), we came out third and went in 15th. I went past 10 or so cars on the first lap. During the pit, my guys passed more cars than I did on the first lap.” (About Greg Ray): “Nothing was going to catch Greg Ray today. He was super fast. My best run all day was at the finish. I just couldn’t catch Buddy (Lazier) for second.

EDDIE CHEEVER JR.: “This is my first DNF (of the season). We had mechanical failure. The same engine that broke tonight is the same engine that put us in front. You have to take the good with the bad. That kind of stuff happens. Will we give up? No, we’re not. This really hurts our championship push a lot. Am I disappointed? Sure, I am.”

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<pre> TOP 10 IN INDY RACING NORTHERN LIGHT SERIES POINT STANDINGS: 1. Buddy Lazier 208 2. Eddie Cheever Jr. 185 3. Scott Goodyear 175 4. Scott Sharp 173 Eliseo Salazar 173 6. Al Unser Jr. 170 7. Mark Dismore 167 8. Robbie Buhl 161 9. Donnie Beechler 154 10. Robby McGehee 152

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RACE/SERIES NOTES, STATISTICS:

·Greg Ray earned his fourth career Indy Racing Northern Light Series victory, tying him for second with Kenny Brack, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Arie Luyendyk on the all-time list. Scott Sharp leads with five victories. ·Greg Ray won from the MBNA Pole for the third time in his career, a series record. Ray also won from the pole at both races in 1999 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. ·This was the seventh time in series history that the pole winner has won the race. ·This is the eighth career victory for Team Menard in Indy Racing Northern Light Series competition. It is the team’s first victory on a 1.5-mile oval. All of the other wins have come on 1-mile ovals. ·Greg Ray led 182 of the 208 laps, the second-highest total for a winner in series history. Tony Stewart led 193 of 200 laps in his victory in 1997 at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Donnie Beechler , Kenny Brack , Al Unser Sr.