RAY LANDS COVETED RIDE WITH TEAM MENARD INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 31, 1998 -- Greg Ray, who had a roller coaster ride during the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season, has stepped into the most coveted seat available in open-wheel racing....
RAY LANDS COVETED RIDE WITH TEAM MENARD
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 31, 1998 -- Greg Ray, who had a roller coaster ride during the 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League season, has stepped into the most coveted seat available in open-wheel racing.
Car owner John Menard has named Ray as the replacement for departing driver Tony Stewart, who will be racing for car owner Joe Gibbs in NASCAR Winston Cup next year. Ray was signed to a 5-year contract with Team Menard.
"That's a fact; guilty as charged," said Menard from his Wisconsin office about Ray's hiring. "We're looking for a good, long relationship and to win a lot of races."
Ray, 32, from Plano, Texas, first captured big headlines last May at Indianapolis when his major sponsor backed out on opening practice day for the Indianapolis 500. His plight reached the public, and many chipped in to assure that he would get a shot at the field.
Ray rewarded his backers by turning in a stunning qualifying run of 221.125 mph, which put his Thomas Knapp-owned Dallara/Aurora/Firestone in the middle of the front row for the start of the Indy 500. Only A.J. Foyt's driver Billy Boat was faster.
During the race, Ray led 18 laps, but fell out in 18th place due to gearbox problems.
Two weeks later, he unleashed another impressive performance at his home track of Texas Motor Speedway after acquiring a one-race local sponsor. Ray and Boat hooked up in a terrific late-race duel, bringing 100,000 fans to their feet. Ray passed for the lead with seven laps to go but was passed by Boat and finished second by less than a second.
Ray then went to the sidelines due to lack of sponsorship only to be called to fill in for his rival, Boat, injured in a crash at New Hampshire. At Dover, Del., Ray was involved in an accident with Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. and at Charlotte, N.C., his transmission broke. His two finishes for Foyt were 15th and 17th, but he led four laps at Charlotte and qualified seventh and second, respectively.
In the season, Ray finished 21st overall with 128 points, appearing in nine of 11 races. He led three races for 23 laps.
That was enough to impress Menard, who earlier this month hired Knapp to replace team manager Larry Curry.
"I've known Tony was leaving for a year," Menard said, "so I've been looking at a lot of drivers. There's a lot of them out there, and they were all good. That made it a hard decision.
"Greg seemed to work out from the 'fit' standpoint. He's really aggressive, had a desire to win and is a good tester."
Menard, who got his first three Indy-style victories with Stewart, said the ability to relate testing information to the crew was an important factor in hiring Ray. Menard noted that Firestone was happy with Ray, and more testing in the Glidden-Menards-Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone was scheduled after completing three days of tire development runs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week.
The arrangement was reached with Ray during that test.
Menard hasn't decided yet whether to run a second car, but he said he is leaning away from hiring a second driver to replace Robbie Buhl, who also has left the team.
The team has four Dallaras that will be updated and will purchase two more, possibly for Indianapolis. Menard also has two G Force cars, and he is not ruling out getting another G Force for Indy.