IRL: Ray runs away to MBNA Pole for Midas 500 Classic at Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga., Friday, July 14, 2000 -- The sun was setting over the Turn 1 wall Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as Greg Ray rolled onto the track to begin his qualifying run for the Midas 500 Classic, and it didn’t take long for Ray to...

HAMPTON, Ga., Friday, July 14, 2000 -- The sun was setting over the Turn 1 wall Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as Greg Ray rolled onto the track to begin his qualifying run for the Midas 500 Classic, and it didn’t take long for Ray to turn out the lights on the rest of the field. Defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion Ray needed just one qualifying lap of 24.988 seconds, 216.104 mph to take the MBNA Pole from Eliseo Salazar by nearly 3 mph. Salazar ended up on the outside of the front row at 213.194 in the Rio A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. After turning that impressive first lap, Ray didn’t even bother to take his allowed second lap. “Do you think somebody’s going to beat 216?” he said rhetorically when asked about pulling into the pit early. “That one was in the bag. Nobody was going to beat it. “We did 214 in practice, and they started to want to make some changes. I said, ‘No, no, no.’ We gambled on some changes, and they worked. “Team Menard has been doing a great job all year long. We haven’t had the race results that we’d like to have had this year.” Donnie Beechler was a career-best third at 25.370, 212.850 in the Cahill Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, and Jeff Ward fourth at 25.418, 212.448 in the Harrah’s A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. The Midas 500 Classic will start at 8 p.m. (EDT) Saturday. It will be televised live on ESPN. Ray’s speed was nearly 1 mph faster than Billy Boat’s pole speed of 215.251 from last year. And it was done with a 3.5-liter engine, not the 4-liter engine used by Boat. This was Ray’s fifth No. 1 start of the season. He now has won eight career MBNA Poles, tying Boat for the career series record, and has started in the top spot nine times. His No. 1 starting spot in the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 in January at Walt Disney World Speedway came when qualifying was rained out and the lineup was decided by the point standings. Salazar picked up two points for qualifying second and that sliced his difference between Northern Light points leader Eddie Cheever Jr. to 23 points. Cheever tops the standings with 176, followed by Buddy Lazier, 168; Scott Sharp, 159; Scott Goodyear, 156; Mark Dismore 155; and Salazar, 153. Chilean driver Salazar was the 10th driver out and knocked teammate Ward, who had qualified at 212.448 mph, off the top of the scoring pylon. He then returned to his pit and waited nervously in front of his scoring monitor. “I feel Greg will win the pole,” he said as Ray’s car went through the technical inspection on the line. Salazar checked each car’s speed as Ray’s qualifying run slowly approached. Finally, Ray rolled away, and zoomed through his two warm-up laps. Salazar checked the speed on each of them. Then it was time for the money run. When Ray roared off the fourth turn, Salazar pushed his hand out toward the oncoming car two or three times as if to slow it down. It didn’t help. Salazar checked the speed, his shoulders slumped, and he turned away from the monitor. Girlfriend Kari Marciniak kissed him on the cheek. “I knew he was going to be quicker than us,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to be that quick. I thought it would be like a 15 (215). He did 16 and let off. “It’s OK. It’s two points in the championship. It’s important. We’re only 23 points behind Cheever. I wanted to start in the front in a race like this. It has gotten so tough.” This will be Salazar’s best career start. He started third at the 1996 and 2000 Indianapolis 500’s. Sarah Fisher turned a lap of 25.491, 211.839, consistent with her practice speeds, to earn the No. 5 spot in her Walker Racing Cummins Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Fisher’s start, coming in only her eighth Northern Light Series race, will be the best ever by a woman in the history of Indy-car racing. The previous high was sixth by Lyn St. James in the 1994 Indianapolis 500. “We’re really happy with our run, just to get up to speed as quick as possible, and that goes back to my sprint and midget days,” she said. “It (start) will be better because when you’re in the back, you are thrashing to get up to the front. This will give me more patience.” Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever Jr. and Al Unser Jr. had tough days. Lazier will start 11th, and Cheever, winner of the previous race at Pikes Peak International Raceway, will start 14th. Unser experienced electrical problems before taking the green flag and did not make an attempt. He will start 24th in the 25-car field. Defending race champion Scott Sharp will start 13th.

MIDAS 500 CLASSIC NOTEBOOK

On the air: The Midas 500 Classic will be televised live on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EDT) July 15. “Indy Racing 2Day” will be televised at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15 on ESPN2. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) July 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 8 p.m. The area IRRN affiliate is WYAY-FM 106.7, Atlanta. The IRRN race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world’s leading Web broadcast site.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Midas 500 Classic are available by calling Atlanta Motor Speedway (770) 946-4211 or through Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com .

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Donnie Beechler , Lyn St. James , A.J. Foyt