IRL: Indy 500 Race Report

KENNY DOES IT! By Nathan Siebens - motorsport.com The waning laps of the 1999 Indianapolis 500 were among perhaps the most intense of any ever run in the 83-race history of the famed Memorial Day weekend event. With second place runner...

KENNY DOES IT! By Nathan Siebens - motorsport.com

The waning laps of the 1999 Indianapolis 500 were among perhaps the most intense of any ever run in the 83-race history of the famed Memorial Day weekend event. With second place runner Kenny Brack dramatically closing the gap two laps from the finish, leader Robby Gordon was just praying that he had enough methanol to get him to the finish. After falling a lap down early in the race, the CART FedEx Championship Series regular had found his way to the front via a seemingly masterful pit strategy. When Jimmy Kite brought out the seventh of eight caution flags on Lap 162, most of the front runners were not within their pit window and did not want to give up valuable track position. However, Gordon found himself on the tail end of the lead lap, and had nothing to lose and a possible Indy 500 victory to gain. The team waited until just before the field was given the one-to-go signal, and brought Gordon onto pit road for four tires and fuel. The move appeared to pay off. When Mark Dismore crashed on Lap 169, creating the day's final caution period, the rest of the leaders pitted, vaulting Gordon from seventh place into the lead. When the race went green again on Lap 174, Gordon, with the help of lapped cars between himself and the battle for second place between Jeff Ward and Brack, jumped out to a comfortable lead. However, despite being just 25 laps from the finish, the race was far from over. With less than ten laps remaining, Gordon radioed team owner John Menard to find out how much fuel he had in the tank. Menard told the aggressive Californian that he had plenty of fuel and to just concentrate on driving the car. Nevertheless, Gordon was still skeptical, and did everything in his power to stretch his fuel load as far as he possible could. Meanwhile, Brack had plenty of methanol in the fuel cell of his #14 AJ Foyt Power Team Racing Dallara/Aurora, and drew closer to Gordon with each passing lap. As Gordon came off of Turn 4 with two laps remaining, he radioed his crew again. He could feel his first Indy 500 victory slipping away. Then, coming off of Turn 4 to take the white flag, Robby informed his team that the well was dry. He had come up slightly more than two gallons of fuel and just over 2.5 miles short of recording the victory. Gordon was credited with a fourth place finish. "(Menard) said (in the closing laps), 'why don't you put it in sixth gear to save fuel?'" Gordon explained afterward. "I said, 'already there boss, anything else?' I want to sit an cry, but what can you do? It's not going to change the way things are going to be. I could go and kick the car, but that's not going to do any good. Plus, John's going to be mad at me. I could go over and punch one of those mechanics because they didn't put enough fuel in the car, but what good would that do us. I've got a race in Milwaukee next weekend. We've got to suck it up and get over it." Gordon's misfortune was all the help that Brack needed, as the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion cruised across the yard of bricks 6.562 seconds ahead of Ward to get his first taste of the traditional Victory Circle milk. In the process, Brack also gave team owner A.J. Foyt the opportunity to visit Victory Circle for a fifth time, but it was the first time he had been there since winning a record fourth time as a driver in 1977. Ironically, Brack may have won the race last year had he not run out of fuel. However, it wasn't as though Brack's win was a fluke. After all, the Swede had a strong car throughout the afternoon, as evidenced by his race high total of 66 laps led. "It is very hard to win this race," said Brack. "You don't know what is going to happen. You have to concentrate, as there are a lot of risks to take. This year, we picked up all the good things. I had my plan for driving, and the team had their plan for the car, and it all came together. "My goal, of course, was to win as many races as possible. We won the championship last year, and, of course, given the choice of winning the Indy 500 or winning the championship, I would focus more on winning the Indy 500. I'd like to win a few more races and win another championship." While Foyt was obviously proud of Brack for taking the victory, he was quick to point out that all three of his cars finished in the top six. Outside front row starter Billy Boat came home in third place, while Buhl, who started 32nd, ended up sixth. "I can't say enough about Kenny Brack, Robbie Buhl, and Billy Boat," Foyt said. "You qualify one car on the front row and one in the back row, and all finish in the top six? What else can you ask for? "Everybody laughed when I brought a foreigner, but I brought him to Texas, and he's not too bad. After every race, I get a big letter from Kenny. I'm anxious to see what he writes this time." While Brack, Foyt, and Gordon most of the attention after the race, Ward proved his immense talent for running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again today. Driving the #21 Yahoo!/MerchantOnline Dallara/Oldsmobile for Pagan Racing, the '97 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year kept himself in the hunt all day long. He led once for three laps, and on the race's final restart, Ward got a great jump to take second place away from Brack. However, just 13 laps from the finish, Brack muscled his way past and checked out on him. Little did he know that it would turn out to be the pass for the victory. Nevertheless, Ward still brought home an impressive second place finish, and leaves Indianapolis as the series point leader. "We'll get this race one day," said the optimistic Ward. "The car went loose but I ran strong all day. We got caught out with two of our early pit stops when the yellow came out right after we stopped. The track changed all day, but I was able to make changes in the car. I wanted this one bad. When I went loose, I wasn't going to take anything that wasn't there. I didn't want to put it in the wall, and I didn't want to run out of fuel." In his first official Indy car start, Robby McGehee turned in a fine performance in the #55 Energizer Advanced Formula Dallara/Aurora. McGehee worked his way toward the front from 27th on the starting grid through a different pit strategy, and spent a majority of the race inside the top ten. The rookie patiently and methodically gained positions and they became available, and brought home a strong fifth place finish. He should be a shoo-in for Bank One Rookie of the Year honors at the Victory Banquet tomorrow night. "(Team owner) Dave (Conti) made the decision last night that if there was an early yellow, we were going to come in and get out of sequence in terms of pit stops," McGehee said. "That's what really made the difference. If I could be Rookie of the Year, that would be the best thing in the world and the pinnacle of my career. The only thing that could be better would be winning the race. It's a dream come true. We've worked so hard to get here. Overall, the result was fantastic." The drama at the end of the race was just the tip of the iceberg, as the day was filled with dramatic moments. Polesitter Arie Luyendyk, who was driving in his final Indy car race, seemed well on his way to going out on top and claiming his third career Indy 500 victory. The Dutchman got a great start, and led the first 32 laps until making his final pit stop. While Brack; Luyendyk's Treadway Racing teammate Sam Schmidt, who eventually crashed out of the running; and Team Menard driver Greg Ray also had strong cars, it just seemed like Luyendyk had a little something extra. Sure, Schmidt, Ray and Brack took their turns at the head of the field, but Arie was driving like a man possessed. Once he took the lead on Lap 99, he rocketed out to a big lead over Ray, proving to everybody that his was the strongest car on the circuit. Unfortunately, on Lap 118, disaster struck. Going into Turn 3 on Lap 118, Luyendyk dove underneath the car of Tyce Carlson in an effort to put him a lap down. Carlson, who explained after the race that he just didn't see Luyendyk coming, took his normal line into the turn, forcing Luyendyk to move all the way to the bottom of the race track. Although it didn't appear that Luyendyk and Carlson made contact with each other, the #5 Sprint PCS/Meijer G Force/Olds swapped ends and went hard into the outside wall. Just like that, "The Flying Dutchman's" illustrious career was over. "My last thoughts?" reflected Luyendyk. "When I got out of the car in Turn 3, the crowd just went bonanza over there, and really again showed what this place is all about. Walking on pit lane this morning, I was trying to take it all in, because I knew it was the last time as a driver. I've done that every year, and I really enjoyed that. There's no race like this. Right up to today, I was like, 'I've never seen this day before. It's always been great throughout the years, but the one thing that I'll be thinking about as I lay in bed is how the race was lost. "I've got to pay tribute to (engineer) Tim Wardrop and the crew. I had the best car here that I've really ever had. You've never seen me run that hard in traffic. The car gave me so much confidence that that was really part of my demise. I was thinking, 'this is too good to be true.'" With Luyendyk out of the race, it seemed that Ray would finally score his breakthrough victory in Indy car competition, as his car was the next strongest behind Luyendyk's. However, his run would also come to an abrupt end. Under the caution flag that was brought out by Luyendyk's accident, Ray and the rest of the leaders made routine pit stops on Lap 121. After taking on the usual four tires and fuel, the Texan wheeled the #2 Glidden/Menards Dallara/Aurora out of his pit box, directly into the path of Mark Dismore's #28 MCI WorldCom Dallara. Dismore's left rear tire got intertwined with Ray's right front, sending both cars spinning across the pit lane and into the inside pit wall. While Dismore was able to continue after taking on a new nose and wing assembly, Ray's car was left with terminal damage to the suspension. In a month that started with so much promise after posting the fastest speeds of the pre-qualifying practice sessions, Ray went home with nothing. "I have no idea what happened," Ray said. "I was told to go. I was focusing on all the things I'm supposed to be focusing on before heading back out again. We had an excellent race car. I was told to go, and I did. The next thing I knew, I went sideways into the pit wall. "Until I see a bird's eye view of what happened in the pits, I can't even guess. I'm speechless. We've worked so hard for so long. We wanted this one bad. It just breaks your heart to have it end this way. If it was a racing incident on the track, that would be better. If it was a blown motor, that would be better. But to have it go like this, I don't know what to say. We're not going to go away and cry about it. I have this belief that days like this make you better." Defending Indy winner Eddie Cheever Jr. was also having a good day in the #51 Children's Beverage Group Dallara/Infiniti, but his bid to become the first driver to win back-to-back 500s since Al Unser in 1971 came up short. Cheever surely brought joy to the much-maligned Infiniti engine camp when he wheeled his car to the front of the field on Lap 121, but four laps would be the extent of his tenure at the head of the field. Although he had settled comfortably into third place, and seemed to be biding his time before making a charge toward the front, trouble was just around the corner. On Lap 139, the Infiniti erupted in a cloud of smoke, and Eddie was forced to pull the car off the course in the middle of the back straight. Despite the disappointment, however, Cheever still managed to prove that his decision to switch to Infiniti power just prior to the month of May could be a shrewd one moving forward in the season. Goodyear tires were on the top three finishers today, and Aurora powered the top 14 cars. Rookie Jeret Schroeder was the highest placed driver using an Infiniti powerplant in 15th, but all three Infiniti- powered cars; Schroeder, Cheever, and Roberto Guerrero; retired as a result of engine failure. On the chassis front, the top eleven cars were Dallaras, while Raul Boesel piloted the lone Riley & Scott chassis to a 12th place finish. The only G Force chassis still running at the finish was Buzz Calkins, who finished 67 laps down in 19th place. The 1999 Indianapolis 500 featured 17 lead changes among seven different drivers, and the race was slowed by caution flags eight times for a total of 42 laps. 16 of the 33 cars were still running at the finish, four of which finished on the lead lap.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Buzz Calkins , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Jeff Ward , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Jeret Schroeder , Roberto Guerrero , Jimmy Kite , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , Al Unser Sr. , Tyce Carlson , A.J. Foyt