INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 1, 2000 -- Infinity finally is not looking so far away for race driver Eddie Cheever Jr. and the engine called Infiniti. In fact, Cheever is peeved that he finished only fifth in the Indianapolis 500 on...
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 1, 2000 -- Infinity finally is not looking so far away for race driver Eddie Cheever Jr. and the engine called Infiniti. In fact, Cheever is peeved that he finished only fifth in the Indianapolis 500 on May 28 driving his No. 51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Now he is determined to make the big victory breakthrough with the engine in the Casino Magic 500 on June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway. “It’s important that we do well at Texas and get into the top three in points,” said 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion Cheever. “Buddy Lazier will be very tough to beat.” By finishing second to Juan Montoya at Indy, Lazier took a 138-112 lead in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series points standings. Cheever’s fifth at Indy put him in fifth in the standings with 104. Robbie Buhl and Scott Goodyear are tied for second at 112, and Eliseo Salazar is fourth at 110. Buhl will join Cheever in the Infiniti brigade at Texas, switching after running the first four races of the season with an Oldsmobile engine. The Nissan Infiniti took a major step forward at Indy in Cheever’s second race there using the powerplant. For the first time, the engine completed 200 laps and 500 miles at Indy, and Cheever trailed Montoya across the finish line by 18.726 seconds. Montoya averaged 167.607 mph, fourth fastest in race history. It was the fastest winning speed ever at Indy by a car powered by a normally aspirated engine. In the last two Northern Light Series events, at Las Vegas and Indianapolis, Cheever has completed 401 of 408 laps. The Infiniti at last has reliability in the longer races. The Texas race, like Las Vegas in April, is 208 laps on a 1.5-mile oval, or 312 miles. At Indy, Cheever turned his fast lap of more than 218 mph on the final lap of the race. None of these facts assuage Cheever’s feelings about being a close loser at Indy. “I didn’t compete in the 500 to finish fifth,” he said. “I’m not very proud of what we did.” The problem that slowed them occurred in the pits. The fuel flow from the tank into the car, for some reason, wasn’t very speedy. Time lost in getting a full load was costly. He noted that on his final stop he came in seventh and exited in ninth. The Team Cheever crew, headed by Owen Snyder III, spent time analyzing the fueling difficulties and hopes to have it rectified for the Casino Magic 500 at Texas. Though Cheever has talked often about switching to the updated Infiniti engine in mid-season, he now has changed his mind. “I think it would be crazy to run the new engine now,” he said. “The one I’ ve got is doing very well.” But it took a lot of extra work to ensure reliable power for Indianapolis, Cheever revealed. Three weeks before the race, the team had a problem with the engine. Infiniti engineers, under the direction of Frank Honsowetz, buckled down and fixed the problem. “I’m not being boastful, but I think the Infiniti now is one of the best engines in racing,” Cheever said. Honsowetz couldn’t agree more. He has suffered through three years of development as the Oldsmobile has won every Indy Racing event the two engines have competed in. “We have made a quantum leap with this program,” Honsowetz said. “We have been there at the end of every race this year in the Indy Racing series, which I think answers the question of reliability.” Said Cheever after Indy, “I beat the hell out of it, and it held its head high.” Cheever came within a late race pass of winning the season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway, giving Infiniti its first Indy Racing victory. The third-place finish at Walt Disney World helped Cheever launch his championship chase with vigor. But he credits the arrival of primary sponsor Excite@Home as a big reason why he is contending for the Northern Light Cup. Excite@Home has provided Cheever with the financial backing that he lacked in his previous two seasons as a car owner. While Cheever concentrates on climbing the Northern Light Series standings in the night at Texas, he also will drive in an event nearly 800 miles away earlier that day. Cheever will join 1999 Indy Racing champion Greg Ray and Kelley Racing veteran Mark Dismore in competing in the season’s third True Value IROC race at Michigan Speedway at noon June 10. They then will fly back to Texas to race that night. Cheever has finished 11th and 10th, respectively, in the first two IROC races this season, at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. “I’m doing it because it’s fun,” he said. It’s also an honor to be named to the elite, 12-driver IROC field. But the biggest honor so far this season for Cheever came when he was honored at the post-race celebration as recipient of the Scott Brayton Driver’s Trophy. It is presented to a driver who displays unusual perseverance and determination and is named after the driver who suffered fatal injuries in a crash at Indy on May 17, 1996, after he had qualified for his second straight PPG Pole for the Indianapolis 500. “I was his teammate for two years,” said Cheever, who received a $25,000 check for winning the award. “Every now and then in racing, there comes a driver you can relate to. I was very honored. “It was very touching. It was one of the bright spots at Indy. It was special because I knew him well.”
CASINO MAGIC 500 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Casino Magic 500 starts at 7 p.m. (CDT) June 10. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 8:30 p.m. June 8.
Practice sessions start at 3 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. June 8, and 1:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. June 9.
On the air: The Casino Magic 500 will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EDT) June 10. “Indy Racing 2Day” will be televised live at 3:30 p.m. June 10 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 9:30 p.m. (EDT) June 8. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) June 10, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. 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 Casino Magic 500 are available by calling (817) 215-8500, through Ticketmaster outlets in Texas by calling (214) 373-8000 or (972) 647-5700. Tickets also are available online at www.ticketmaster.com .