IRL: Contenders eye Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga., Monday, July 3, 2000 - The Midas 500 Classic on July 15 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will play a huge role in determining who wins the Northern Light Cup in 2000, for two reasons. First, the 208-lap, 320-mile race is...

HAMPTON, Ga., Monday, July 3, 2000 - The Midas 500 Classic on July 15 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will play a huge role in determining who wins the Northern Light Cup in 2000, for two reasons. First, the 208-lap, 320-mile race is the seventh of nine races in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series this season. The stretch run toward the $1-million bonus for winning the Northern Light Cup has started, and every point counts. Second, nearly every driver who played a major role in the incredibly competitive Casino Magic 500 on June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway - the last Northern Light Series event on a high-banked, 1.5-mile oval like Atlanta Motor Speedway - is in contention for the Northern Light Cup. So expect an intense battle for both victory and the series points lead at the Midas 500 Classic on the 1.54-mile quad-oval at AMS. The race starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15 and will be televised live on ESPN. This will be the first night race of the season, as the Casino Magic 500 was postponed from Saturday night, June 10, to Sunday afternoon, June 11, due to rain. Eddie Cheever Jr. took the 176-168 lead over Buddy Lazier in the series points with a victory in the Radisson Indy 200 on June 18 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Cheever's victory in the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone was the first for an Infiniti-powered car in series history. Cheever's win may have come on the 1-mile, fairly flat oval at Pikes Peak, but he also was a factor on the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval in early June at Texas. Cheever led once for six laps and was among a pack of a dozen cars that combined for a series-record 31 official lead changes in that event. So expect 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever to be a contender for victory at Atlanta. He finished sixth in this event last year, but the Infiniti engine has made big gains in power and reliability since then. Lazier will seek redemption at Atlanta. He finished last at his home track - Pikes Peak - last month after an engine malfunction on the first lap. Like Cheever, Lazier was a major player in early June at Texas. He led 11 times for 62 laps in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone before ending up seventh. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier also has a career victory on a high-banked, 1.5-mile oval, winning the inaugural Indy Racing event at Charlotte, N.C., in 1997. So he is more than capable of winning and regaining the Northern Light Series points lead at this track. Scott Sharp falls into the category as a potential winner, too. Sharp had a brilliant June, winning the Casino Magic 500 at Texas by .059 of a second over Robby McGehee in the closest finish in series history. He led three times for 38 laps at that event. Sharp then followed up one week later with a third-place finish in the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak in the Delphi Automotive Systems/MCI WorldCom Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Sharp's power surge in June lifted him from 12th to third in the series standings with 159 points, just 17 behind leader Cheever. And this race couldn't have arrived at a better time for Sharp. He's the defending champion of the event. Scott Goodyear, fourth in the standings with 156 points, led twice for six laps at Texas before finishing fifth in the Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Goodyear, like Lazier, has a career victory on a 1.5-mile oval, winning in June 1999 at Texas. Mark Dismore has posted solid second- and sixth-place finishes, respectively, this year on the 1.5-mile ovals at Las Vegas and Texas in the On Star/GM Buy Power Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone en route to fifth in the standings with 155 points. Dismore's only career Indy Racing victory came last October on the 1.5-mile oval at Texas. No contender for the Northern Light Cup has run better on 1.5-mile ovals this year than two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. Unser won the Vegas Indy 300 in April and finished third in the Casino Magic 500 in June at Texas in the Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. He led nine times for an event-best 79 laps at Texas. Unser is seventh in the standings with 135 points, 16 behind sixth-place Eliseo Salazar in the Rio A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. The chase for the Northern Light Cup isn't the only tight race. The battle for Rookie of the Year honors also is close, as Jeret Schroeder leads Airton Dare, 112-108. Other rookies entered in this event include 19-year-old Sarah Fisher and Shigeaki Hattori. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Scott Harrington, will make his debut with Mid America Motorsports at this race. J.J. Yeley will make his first Indy Racing start since 1998, with Jonathan Byrd-McCormack Motorsports.

MIDAS 500 CLASSIC NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Midas 500 Classic starts at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 7 p.m. July 14. Practice sessions start at 6 and 8:15 p.m. July 13, and 4:45 and 10:15 p.m. July 14.

*** Sign here, please: An autograph session with Indy Racing Northern Light Series competitors will take place from 8:30-9:30 p.m. (EDT) July 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

*** On the air: The Midas 500 Classic will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 14. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The area IRRN affiliate is WYAY-FM 106.7, Atlanta. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.

*** Tickets: Tickets for the Midas 500 Classic are available by calling Atlanta Motor Speedway (770) 946-4211 or through Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com .

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Shigeaki Hattori , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , J.J. Yeley , Scott Harrington , A.J. Foyt