IRL: New England 200 Preview

STEWART, SHARP TIED ATOP STANDINGS ENTERING NEW ENGLAND 200 INDIANAPOLIS, June 18, 1998 - As the Pep Boys Indy Racing League heads to New Hampshire for the New England 200, something has to give. Defending series champion Tony...

STEWART, SHARP TIED ATOP STANDINGS ENTERING NEW ENGLAND 200

INDIANAPOLIS, June 18, 1998 - As the Pep Boys Indy Racing League heads to New Hampshire for the New England 200, something has to give.

Defending series champion Tony Stewart and Connecticut native Scott Sharp are tied atop the season standings with 115 points after four of 11 races this season. Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Billy Boat is close behind in third at 110.

One of the tightest points battles in series history will continue at the third annual New England 200, June 28 at New Hampshire International Speedway. The 200-lap race starts at 2 p.m. (EDT).

The New England 200 could be a pivotal race in the quest for the series championship and the coveted Pep Boys Million, for many reasons.

First, this event starts a crucial stretch of races. The first four events of the 1998 season were spread out over a 5½-month period. The next four races, starting with this event, take place over a six-week span.

There's no time for mistakes. Any misjudgment, miscalculation or poor showing could damage any chance for the title. The stakes are high, as the purse for this event is more than $1 million.

Second, this event will challenge teams because it marks a return to tracks that emphasize handling over horsepower.

The last two events, the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the True Value 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, were displays of brute horsepower. A powerful engine was essential to keep up with the leaders, who consistently clocked laps faster than 220 mph.

New Hampshire International Speedway poses one of the most interesting challenges for drivers on the Pep Boys IRL circuit. Much like the other 1-mile ovals, drivers can't just pound the pedal to the metal for all 200 laps.

A successful combination at New Hampshire combines power and a well-tuned chassis. Horsepower must be accompanied by handling on the 1.058-mile oval, as drivers must show a mix of aggression and patience while working traffic on the 12-degree turns.

The combination of relatively flat turns and tough race traffic produced the closest finish in league history last year, as Robbie Buhl edged Vincenzo Sospiri by .064 of a second for his first victory. Another close finish could be in store, if recent results are any indication. Boat edged Greg Ray by just .928 of a second earlier this month at Texas.

Three of the next four Pep Boys IRL events take place on ovals of approximately 1 mile, so drivers who thrive at New Hampshire could be poised for a midsummer surge.

But picking a possible winner at New Hampshire is anyone's guess. The Pep Boys IRL has been one of the most competitive series anywhere this year, with no repeat winners through four races.

Stewart won the season opener in January at Orlando, Fla., in his Glidden-Menards Special G Force/Aurora/Firestone. Sharp triumphed in March at Phoenix in his Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear, while Eddie Cheever Jr. earned the biggest win of his life in the Indianapolis 500 last month in the Rachel's Potato Chips Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear. Boat gave car owner A.J. Foyt a cherished victory in his home state earlier this month at the True Value 500 in Fort Worth, Texas, winning that thrill show in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear.

History also doesn't provide a clue to which driver might emerge in this event. Only three drivers have finished in the top 10 at both previous Pep Boys IRL races at New Hampshire: Roberto Guerrero, Eliseo Salazar and John Paul Jr. Salazar and Paul are entered to compete in this race.

Other top drivers entered include 1996 New Hampshire 200 winner Sharp, Stewart, Boat, Jeff Ward, Buhl, former supermodified standout Davey Hamilton, two-time Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, Kenny Brack, Cheever, Scott Goodyear, 1996 Indy champion Buddy Lazier, Buzz Calkins, Mark Dismore, Raul Boesel, Sam Schmidt, Stephan Gregoire and rookie Robby Unser, son of three-time Indy 500 champion Bobby Unser.

NEW ENGLAND 200 NOTEBOOK

Event schedule: The third annual New England 200 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. Qualifying starts at 2 p.m. June 27. Pep Boys IRL practice sessions will take place at 8:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. June 27.

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Broadcast schedule: The New England 200 will be televised live on CBS at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28. PPG Pole qualifying will be televised live on SpeedVision at 2 p.m. June 27.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 2 p.m. (EDT) June 28, with a prerace show starting at 1:30 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute show of PPG Pole qualifications at 3:30 p.m. June 27.

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Tickets: Tickets for the New England 200 are available by calling New Hampshire International Speedway at (603) 783-4931.

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World Wide Web: http://www.indyracingleague.com

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Buzz Calkins , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Scott Goodyear , Roberto Guerrero , Raul Boesel , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , Bobby Unser , John Paul , Vincenzo Sospiri , A.J. Foyt