STEWART, SHARP LEAD DRIVERS TRYING TO MASTER THE 'MONSTER MILE' DOVER, Del., July 9, 1998 - Another showdown between Tony Stewart and Scott Sharp may loom July 19 as the Pep Boys Indy Racing League makes its inaugural trip to Dover...
STEWART, SHARP LEAD DRIVERS TRYING TO MASTER THE 'MONSTER MILE'
DOVER, Del., July 9, 1998 - Another showdown between Tony Stewart and Scott Sharp may loom July 19 as the Pep Boys Indy Racing League makes its inaugural trip to Dover Downs International Speedway for the Pep Boys 400K. Stewart and Sharp have been the dynamic duo of the league this season for many reasons, and their rivalry is becoming one of the fiercest in motorsports. Defending Pep Boys IRL champion Stewart opened the season with a victory in the Glidden-Menards Special G Force/Aurora/Firestone at Orlando, Fla., but Sharp countered with a victory at the next race in Phoenix in the Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Stewart was runner-up.
The drivers were tied atop the league point standings after the True Value 500 last month at Texas Motor Speedway, but Stewart took a 167-150 lead after winning the New England 200 on June 28 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Sharp's home track.
There's another wrinkle about Stewart and Sharp to consider as the Pep Boys IRL heads to the 1-mile oval at Dover. Both are the only drivers in the three-year history of the Pep Boys IRL to record more than one victory on a 1-mile oval. Former USAC short-track ace Stewart has won three times on the IRL's version of a "bullring," while former road racer Sharp has two victories on miles.
So Stewart and Sharp once again are drivers to watch as Indy-style open-wheel cars return to Dover for the first time since Art Pollard won a USAC Championship Trail race in August 1969. The 248-lap, 248-mile (400 kilometers) Pep Boys 400K starts at noon (EDT) July 19, with qualifying beginning at noon July 18.
Stewart and Sharp may be the masters of the mile in the Pep Boys IRL, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee them success at Dover. That's because the "Monster Mile" is unlike any other racetrack on the circuit.
For starters, Dover Downs is paved with concrete, which provides different but more consistent grip than the asphalt surfaces at all other league tracks. It's the first time that Indy-style cars have raced on an all-concrete oval, which will pose quite a challenge for mechanics trying to devise chassis setups.
Second, the banking at Dover is a steep 24 degrees in the turns and 9 degrees on the straightaways. That banking in the turns is identical to the 200-mph tracks at Charlotte, N.C., Fort Worth and Atlanta. The combination of steep banking and a concrete surface should create lap times quicker than 20 seconds and speeds faster than 180 mph at Dover, making it the fastest 1-mile oval in the league. Concentration will be crucial as drivers try to navigate traffic on the high banks.
Stewart recorded the fastest speed during the league's Open Test last month, 183.393 mph. So the track record, 155.898 set by Rusty Wallace during NASCAR Winston Cup qualifying in May, appears to be history.
By the numbers, Stewart and Sharp are the most successful drivers on 1-mile ovals this year. Stewart has two victories and a second-place finish on the miles, while Sharp has finished first, third and sixth.
But Jeff Ward and Davey Hamilton also should be strong contenders for victory at Dover. Ward won the pole on the tricky 1-mile oval at Phoenix in March and finished fifth. He started on the outside row last month on the mile at New Hampshire, leading 46 laps early in the race before being sidelined with mechanical problems in the ISM Racing-Prolong-Superflow-Tabasco G Force/Aurora/Goodyear. Ward also finished second to Stewart on the mile at Orlando during the season opener in January.
Hamilton finished third at Orlando and fourth at New Hampshire. He is one of the hottest drivers in the league, as he has climbed from 10th to third in the point standings during the last three races in the Reebok-Nienhouse Motorsports G Force/Aurora/Goodyear.
Scott Goodyear is another driver who excels on 1-mile ovals and also is making a steady charge toward the top of the point standings. Goodyear finished runner-up to Stewart last month at New Hampshire and has leaped from 14th to fifth in the standings during the last two races in the Pennzoil Panther G Force/Aurora/Goodyear.
Jim Guthrie, winner on the Phoenix mile in 1997, will return to the driver's seat at this event after missing the last races due to injuries suffered in a crash during the Indianapolis 500. Guthrie is making his debut with Cobb Racing after entering the first three races of the year with ISM Racing.
Other top drivers entered in the Pep Boys 400K include two-time Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, 1998 Indy 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier, Buzz Calkins, John Paul Jr., Kenny Brack, Mark Dismore, Raul Boesel and rookie Robby Unser, son of three-time Indy 500 champion Bobby Unser.
Event schedule: The inaugural Pep Boys 400K is scheduled to start at noon (EDT) July 19. PPG Pole qualifying starts at noon July 18.
Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will start at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. July 17, and 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. July 18.