Jeff Ward led one lap around the Texas Motor Speedway but he did it when it counted the most, on the final lap. "I forgot what this feeling was all about," said Ward, a former motocross champion who hasn't won a race in ten years. "This is what...
Jeff Ward led one lap around the Texas Motor Speedway but he did it when it counted the most, on the final lap. "I forgot what this feeling was all about," said Ward, a former motocross champion who hasn't won a race in ten years. "This is what you work for and you go so long without getting it and you wake up and you wonder why am I doing this."
Under the guidance of the perseverant Mitch Davis, Ward won the Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year title in 1997, and now, his first Indy racing victory in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history, after crossing the finish line ahead of Al Unser Jr. by 0.0111 of a second.
When the white flag came out Ward was tucked under the gearbox of Unser Jr. as he and two other drivers raced for the lead on the final lap. Unser kept his car low coming off turn two, defending the inside line. Ward stayed behind Unser through the first two corners and then swept to the outside and began his long and slow move around the outside.
"I came off (turn) two better than I had come off all night long," said Ward. "I was on the outside going 'come on, come on,' hoping he wasn't going to move up. The (finish) line came up a lot slower than it normally does. So I felt I had more time to get there."
It was so close Ward wasn't sure if he had won but he raised his fist in victory just in case. "I can't see the front of my car from where I sit. I can see 200 yards down the road but I can not see his wheel or his nose or the finish line, so I just shook my fist."
It wasn't until his crew started screaming on the radio that he knew for sure.
The lead changed three times in the last seven laps with the top-four drivers crossing the finish line within 0.5244 seconds. The margin between the top three drivers was 0.0595 seconds, nearly matching last October's three-way finish covered by 0.0468 seconds.
"Congratulations to Wardy, he drove a great race," said second place finisher Unser Jr. "I just protected the inside, the shortest way around the track. If Wardy was going to do me, he was going to have to do me on the outside."
Airton Dare, who led lap 193, was in the hunt until the end, finishing third. "I was coming out of turn four faster than those two guys and had nowhere to go. I thought about going through the grass but I didn't think that was a good idea."
Helio Castroneves, who was shuffled out of the lead with four laps to go, finished fourth. "At the beginning of the race I was not having fun, but by the end I was having a great time," said Castroneves, who has yet to finish outside the top four this season. "We worked on the car during our pit stops, and it was awesome by the end.
"The guys did a great last pit stop and I was able to take the lead. Unfortunately fifth gear was too tall - which was my fault since I chose it - and there was nothing I could do to keep the lead."
Castroneves retains the championship points lead 227-183 over his teammate Gil de Ferran.
Felipe Giaffone finished fifth.
Shigeaki Hattori matched his career best finish with a sixth place after leading 28 laps while holding off a challenge from Tomas Scheckter.
Scheckter, who led 107 laps, the most of any driver for the second consecutive race, relinquished the lead when he made a scheduled pit stop on lap 159. When the young South African engaged first gear to leave the pits, the car lurched forward and stalled.
Despite the best efforts of his crew, Scheckter was unable to restart the engine and his race ended early once again.
The Indy Racing League heads to Pikes Peak International Raceway next weekend for the Radisson Indy 200 on June 16.
Notes from the Boomtown 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway:
Jaques Lazier, who was injured at Nazareth Speedway in April, was a visitor at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
Memo Gidley was making the rounds at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Gidley stood at the head of the qualifying line on Thursday, making sure everyone knew he was on the scene. He flies to California tonight to continue his job search at Laguna Seca.
The crew of the No. 52 driven by Tomas Scheckter had no radio contact with their driver during the race. The team could hear Scheckter but he could not hear anything in the cockpit.