HAMPTON, Ga., Saturday, April 28, 2001 - Greg Ray turned in one of auto racing's rarest feats Saturday night when he blazed to a second consecutive win from the pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Ray picked up right where he left...
HAMPTON, Ga., Saturday, April 28, 2001 - Greg Ray turned in one of auto racing's rarest feats Saturday night when he blazed to a second consecutive win from the pole at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Ray picked up right where he left off last July and led 184 of 200 laps of the zMax 500 to score his first victory of the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season. He crossed the finish line 19.857 seconds in front of runner-up Scott Sharp.
"There's no more favorite track of mine than Atlanta right now, to have two fairy tale race weekends," said Ray, who earned a check for $124,100. "Very rarely does a race car driver and a race team have weekends that are so flawless, and to have two in a row is very nice."
The race was marred by a fiery crash involving 11 cars on Lap 54. Ten of the drivers were released from the infield care center uninjured. Jack Miller was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center and held overnight for observation of a concussion. He is listed in stable condition. Ray's winning speed was trimmed to 133.647 mph due to the lengthy cleanup after the Lap 54 accident. He was never threatened for the lead after pitting for the last time on Lap 146.
Team Menard team manager Darrell Soppe gambled that Ray's No. 2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car had sufficient fuel to finish the race, and it paid off. Ray's closest challenger for most of the race was Sam Hornish Jr., winner of the season's first two races, driving the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. However, Hornish was forced to make a stop for a splash of fuel on Lap 190 and slipped from second to fourth in the final rundown. Hornish did maintain his lead in the Northern Light Cup standings with 136 points.
Scott Sharp, driving the Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone finished second. He was followed by Buzz Calkins in third, driving the Bradley Food Marts/Sav-O-Mat Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car.
Ray joins Tony Stewart as the second driver to lead more than 1,000 laps in Indy Racing competition. This was Ray's fifth career victory, tying him with Sharp for the most wins in Indy Racing League history.
"Well, it's a happy ending," said owner John Menard. "We knew it was there if we could just run the distance. Both at Miami and Phoenix we just had little things that bit us, but they bit us hard enough to put us out of the race. This really means a lot for the team going into Indy."
Late in the race, Ray encountered traffic and decided to slow to save fuel. In addition, Ray slowed due to a vibration as a result of worn tires. At the end, he had reduced his lap speed from 210 to 195 mph.
"Everything but a school bus was passing me," he said with a laugh.
The other drivers involved in the Lap 54 crash were two-time Indy 500 champion Unser Jr., Robbie Buhl, Jeret Schroeder, Robby McGehee, Billy Boat, Davey Hamilton, Casey Mears, Jon Herb, Cory Witherill and Sarah Fisher. Fisher was able to return after repair to her suspension. She finished 11th, 22 laps down. Boat returned to the track and finished 14th.