POSTRACE NOTES: INDIANAPOLIS 500, MAY 24, INDIANAPOLIS THE WINNER: --Eddie Cheever Jr.: Cheever took the lead from Buddy Lazier with 23 laps remaining to win the 82nd Indianapolis 500, the third race of the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League ...
POSTRACE NOTES: INDIANAPOLIS 500, MAY 24, INDIANAPOLIS
--Eddie Cheever Jr.: Cheever took the lead from Buddy Lazier with 23 laps remaining to win the 82nd Indianapolis 500, the third race of the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season. Cheever led six times for 76 laps in the Rachel's Potato Chips Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear on the 2.5-mile oval, more than any other driver. It was Cheever's first victory in the world's richest auto race, as he earned $1.43 million from the record $8.72 million purse. "I'm speechless and don't know what to say," Cheever said. "At the start, I turned into Turn 1 and was bumped from behind. I said, 'Aw, I don't want it to end this way.' Fifteen guardian angels were watching over me for this race. I grew up in Italy, but my father told me that there's one race you have to win in motor racing, the Indianapolis 500. This one's for my dad." --Cheever became the first driver-owner to win the Indianapolis 500 since A.J. Foyt in 1977. --Cheever won in car #51, the first driver to win this race with a car number in the 50's. --Cheever started 17th. This is the second time the winning car started from the 17th position. The other occasion was in 1941, in a car driven by co-winners Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose. --The victory was the second of Cheever's Pep Boys IRL career. He earned his first win in January 1997 at the rain-shortened Indy 200 near Orlando, Fla. --Cheever was the top lap leader of the race, leading 76 laps. Cheever is the first winner since Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989 to lead the most laps during the race. Fittipaldi led 158 laps when he won in '89. Cheever and Fittipaldi are the only winners to also be the top lap leaders of the event in the last 14 years.
THE CONTENDERS: --Buddy Lazier: Lazier stalked winner Eddie Cheever Jr. throughout the final 40 laps of the race, falling just 3.191 seconds short of his second Indianapolis 500 victory in three years. Lazier last led on Lap 177 but lost the lead to Cheever in the pits. Lazier pulled to within less than one second of eventual winner Cheever on a restart on Lap 195, but his Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear didn't have enough speed to match Cheever over the last six laps. "It's just so hard to come that close and not get it," Lazier said. "We just didn't have enough. We gave it all we had. I was pushing at the end, and I almost hit the wall trying to catch Eddie a couple of times." --John Paul Jr.: Paul had an excellent chance to pull off a stunning upset until a clutch problem caused him to stall four times while trying to exit the pits on Lap 177. He ended up seventh, three laps down in the low-budget Team Pelfrey Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Before the problems, Paul steadily climbed from the 16th starting spot and took the lead on Lap 98. He ended up leading twice for 39 laps. Only winner Eddie Cheever Jr. led more laps during the race. Paul was in fourth place on Lap 170, just seven laps before the ill-fated pit stop. "I had a problem with the clutch overheating," Paul said. "I stalled it on the first yellow, kept the throttle up. Last time it cooked the clutch. I had to start it in fourth gear. "We had a great team. It's my mistake, and it won't be easy to live with." Still, it was an impressive performance for Paul, who entered practice without a ride. He earned the spot with Team Pelfrey after its driver, Danny Ongais, crashed on the second day of practice and wasn't cleared to drive.
THE REST OF THE STORY: --Freshman fliers: Six of the top 12 finishers were rookies, one of the strongest showings by first-year drivers at Indianapolis in more than 30 years. Steve Knapp finished third and was named Bank One Rookie of the Year in the Primadonna Resorts-Miller Milling-ISM Aurora G Force/Aurora/Goodyear. Robby Unser, son of three-time Indy champion Bobby Unser, was fifth in the Team Cheever Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by race winner Eddie Cheever Jr. Andy Michner was eighth in the Konica-Syan Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. J.J. Yeley, at 21 the youngest rookie in the field, finished ninth in the One Call Communications-Quaker State-Menards-SRS Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. Jimmy Kite finished 11th in the Royal Purple Synthetic Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, and 46-year-old Jack Hewitt, the oldest rookie in Indy history, was 12th in the Parker Machinery G Force/Aurora/Goodyear. In 1965, five rookies finished in the top 10. Mario Andretti was third, Gordon Johncock fifth, Mickey Rupp sixth, Bobby Johns seventh and Al Unser ninth. --Foyt power: Both drivers competing for the team owned by four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt qualified on the front row. Billy Boat won the pole at 223.503 mph in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, while teammate Kenny Brack started third at 220.982 in the Power Team Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Boat was troubled by drive line problems and finished 23rd in the race, while Brack was sixth, two laps down, at the finish. --Surprise, surprise: Unheralded Greg Ray started in the middle of the front row after turning a four-lap average of 221.125 mph on Pole Day. Ray's performance was even more remarkable considering that the team that fields his Dallara/Aurora/Firestone, Thomas Knapp Motorsports, lost its primary sponsor during the first week of practice and almost lacked enough funds to compete. A handful of sponsors, including Texas Motor Speedway, The Nashville Network, True Value and Dixie Chopper, came aboard to keep Ray's effort afloat. "I'm so happy for our small team," Ray said. "This is our Cinderella story." Ray led twice for 18 laps during the race before he was hindered by gearbox problems. He ended up 18th, falling out after 167 laps. --Early departure for Menard: Both drivers for defending Pep Boys IRL entrant champion Team Menard, Tony Stewart and Robbie Buhl, had uncharacteristically short days. Stewart was out of the race after just 22 laps, as his engine expired less than one lap after he took the lead in his Glidden-Menards Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone. He finished last in the 33-car event. Buhl didn't fare much better. He was out after 44 laps with engine trouble, finishing 31st.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES: --Eighteen cars were running at the finish, the most at the Indianapolis 500 since 18 also were running at the end in 1995. The record for a race that went 500 miles is 26 in 1911, but there were 40 starters that year. The record for a 33-car field, including rain-shortened races, is 27 in 1976. That race ended after just 255 miles due to rain. The record for a 33-car field in a race that went 500 miles is 24 in 1993. There were two major reasons for the large number of cars running at the finish. First, only five drivers were sidelined by engine problems. Two of those engine failures were caused by other problems: A washer punctured the radiator of Robbie Buhl's engine, and a transmission problem caused Marco Greco's engine to fail. Second, a new Pep Boys IRL rule that allows teams to work on their cars in the garage area during the race was used at the Indianapolis 500 for the first time. The rule was instituted at the Las Vegas 500K last October, the final event of the 1996-97 Pep Boys IRL season. Under the new rule, teams are allowed to repair their cars in the garage and return to the race. Teams can't change their engines or chassis. Two IRL technicians must approve any repairs before the car returns to the track, with IRL Technical Director Phil Casey overseeing the process. "Since the very beginning, the Pep Boys Indy Racing League has worked hard to provide value for both the fans and our sponsors," said Leo Mehl, Pep Boys IRL executive director. "For that reason, we want as many cars on the racetrack as we can get throughout the race. If a car can be safely repaired and returned to the race, we are all for it. The fans and the sponsors appreciate it. "The Indianapolis 500 is sanctioned by the IRL, and therefore we applied the same rule. Eighteen cars were running at the finish, but only two of them were cars that had been in the garage for repairs." oThere were 10 different lap leaders, tied for second all-time at this event. The record is 12, in 1993. Ten different drivers also led in 1980 and 1995. --There were 23 lead changes, tied for fourth all-time at this event. The record is 29 in 1960. Second best is 27 in 1923, third best is 24 in 1981. There also were 23 lead changes in 1993 and 1995. oFive drivers led the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, the second most in Indianapolis 500 history: Greg Ray, Kenny Brack, Buzz Calkins, John Paul Jr. and Davey Hamilton. Seven drivers led the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, still the record. Five drivers also led for the first time in 1913, 1914, 1928, 1932 and 1993.