By Dan Dakin ATLANTA - There was a collective sigh of relief in the Team Menard pit Saturday night as Texas-native Greg Ray won the Indy Racing League's zMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It finally marked the end of a streak of bad luck for...
By Dan Dakin
ATLANTA - There was a collective sigh of relief in the Team Menard pit Saturday night as Texas-native Greg Ray won the Indy Racing League's zMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It finally marked the end of a streak of bad luck for Ray, who had finished no better than 21st this season, despite starting in the front row every race.
Ray, the defending winner at the 1.5-mile oval, started from the pole and led 184 of 200 laps to capture the checkered flag, but it came down to a roll of the dice with the fuel strategy that paid off.
Only Ray and second-place finisher Scott Sharp, who are now tied for most career IRL wins with six each, were able to stay out of the pits in the race's final five laps, securing the top finish.
"I'm very excited. I love all the race tracks but Atlanta has been very good to me the last couple of years," said Ray.
Only 13 of the 27 starters finished the race with many of the DNFs resulting from a fiery 11-car accident on Lap 53.
Cory Witherill, making his first-ever IRL start, spun in Turn 4 and that started a spectacular chain-reaction pileup that left wreckage strewn all over the track.
Involved in the wreck were Robbie Buhl, Dr. Jack Miller, Casey Mears, Billy Boat, Al Unser Jr., Davey Hamilton, Jeret Schroeder, Robby McGehee, Jon Herb, Witherill and Sarah Fisher.
Fisher and Boat went on to finish the race in 11th and 14th place, respectively, while Miller was removed from his car and flown to a Atlanta Medical Centre via for observation.
However, IRL physician, Dr. Henry Bock, said Miller was conscious when safety teams arrived at his heavily-damaged Cahill Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile.
"He did show signs of concussion but he is awake and alert," Bock told reporters during the race.
The accident resulted in a 35-lap caution period, the longest of four on the day.
Between that and staggered pit stops under green later in the race, a number of drivers running near the front had to dive in for splash and goes with less than five laps remaining.
Ray led nearly the entire second half of the race and stayed out with Sharp before going on to win by 19.85 seconds. Ray also turned the fasted lap with a run of 25.033 seconds at 215.714 mph on Lap 155.
"I couldn't dream this could happen coming into the race," said Sharp after finishing second. "We had a pretty awful time this weekend. We needed a good shot in the arm like this headed into May."
Indy Racing League points leader Sam Hornish saw his two-race winning streak come to an end with a fourth-place finish under the lights at Atlanta Saturday.
"It would have been hard to go three for three. The guys did an awesome job. I wanted to do a little bit better but we've got great momentum heading into the Indy 500," said Hornish," whose finish was good enough to maintain his lead in the points race.
Momentum seemed to be the talk of the weekend with the drivers now taking a month off to prepare and qualify for the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. <pre> Complete results from Saturday's zMAX 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway: 1. (1) Greg Ray, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $124,100 2. (13) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $95,600 3. (8) Buzz Calkins, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $68,600 4. (6) Sam Hornish Jr., Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $55,350 5. (7) Eliseo Salazar, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $50,700 6. (9) Buddy Lazier, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $45,550 7. (2) Jeff Ward, G Force-Oldsmobile, 199, $46,450 8. (5) Shigeaki Hattori, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 198, $43,350 9. (11) Airton DarE9 , G Force-Oldsmobile, 197, $43,100 10. (15) Felipe Giaffone, G Force-Oldsmobile, 182, $42,000 11. (18) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 178, $40,900 12. (16) Stan Wattles, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 147, $17,800 13. (20) Didier AndrE9, G Force-Oldsmobile, clutch, 139, $38,800 14. (17) Billy Boat, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 109, $37,600 15. (21) Stephan Gregoire, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 95, $14,600 16. (25) Jon Herb, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 77, engine, $13,500 17. (14) Al Unser Jr., G Force-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $34,300 18. (12) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $34,300 19. (22) Jeret Schroeder, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $11,300 20. (19) Robbie Buhl, G Force-Infiniti, 52, accident, $37,200 21. (10) Robby McGehee, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $32,200 22. (24) Cory Witherill, G Force-Oldsmobile, 51, accident, $10,200 23. (27) Casey Mears, G Force-Oldsmobile, 51, accident, $32,200 24. (3) Eddie Cheever Jr., Dallara-Infiniti, 34, engine, $32,200 25. (23) Jack Miller, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 28, accident, $10,200 26. (4) Mark Dismore, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 15, engine, $32,200 27. (26) Brandon Erwin, G Force-Oldsmobile, 3, accident, $32,200