IRL: Robbie Buhl Indy 500 Preview

INDIANAPOLIS, April 6, 1998 - Robbie Buhl will be one of the first to admit that his teammate on Team Menard, Tony Stewart, casts a pretty big shadow. Stewart is the defending Pep Boys IRL champion. He has finished first and...

INDIANAPOLIS, April 6, 1998 - Robbie Buhl will be one of the first to admit that his teammate on Team Menard, Tony Stewart, casts a pretty big shadow.

Stewart is the defending Pep Boys IRL champion. He has finished first and second in the first two races of the 1998 season and enters the Indianapolis 500 on May 24 as the series' points leader. Notepads, cameras and fans follow Stewart's every move as he hopscotches between the Pep Boys IRL and his part-time rides in NASCAR Busch Grand National and USAC series. But don't expect any Formula One-style soap opera between these guys. Buhl and Stewart are close friends and equal teammates, and sometimes the attention showered upon Stewart helps Buhl during his preparation for races. "Does Tony get more attention because he's the champion and all that? Sure," Buhl said. "That doesn't bother me. That helps us just focus on the task at hand." That task is clear these days: winning the Indianapolis 500. And Buhl must be considered one of the primary contenders to hoist the Borg-Warner Trophy in Victory Lane this year. Buhl, from Indianapolis, has a strong track record of success during the Indianapolis 500. He finished eighth last year for Team Menard, leading 16 laps during the second half of the race. In 1996, he finished ninth for Beck Motorsports but ran as high as fifth. Consistency always has been a hallmark of Buhl's career. He won the Barber Saab Pro Series title in 1989 with a record seven victories and six poles. He then won the Indy Lights title in 1992 with a victory and 10 other top-three finishes. In fact, Buhl recorded 27 top-three finishes in 50 races during his Indy Lights career, a series record. Buhl, 34, also helped drive a Ford Mustang to a GTS-class victory in the 1993 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, one of motorsports' ultimate tests of consistency. "If you look at my history of racing, I'm more apt to finish races than not finish races," Buhl said. "(The Indianapolis 500) is a long race, and you do have to be conscious of your equipment and your surroundings to survive until the end. I think I can do that." No question. But Buhl has been dogged so far this season by bad luck, the one part of racing that can't be controlled by even the most consistent driver. Buhl finished 20th at the season-opening Indy 200 in the Johns Manville-Menard G Force/Aurora/Firestone, as a pit-road collision with Raul Boesel early in the race prevented a better showing. He finished 12th at the Dura-Lube 200 in March, plagued by more bad luck. Buhl needed an early, unscheduled pit stop due to loose bodywork, and then his suspension was damaged by wreckage while trying to avoid an accident between J.J. Yeley and Davey Hamilton. "We're kind of hoping that's out of our system," Buhl said about bad luck. "That variable is something you can't control. You don't agonize over it. You do what you've got to do." That workmanlike approach could help Buhl earn his first Indianapolis 500 victory and deliver a long-awaited win at the Brickyard for team owner John Menard, who entered Indianapolis-style racing in 1979. "It isn't any more pressure," Buhl said of racing at Indianapolis. "It's all the same in my book. But I would want it to come together in the month of May more than any other."


Fire and ice: When it comes to driving styles, there may not be more of an odd couple among teammates in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League than Team Menard drivers Tony Stewart and Robbie Buhl. Stewart is a speed demon who tries to rip the asphalt from the track on every lap. Buhl is a calculating strategist who tries to put his car into position for a late charge toward the checkered flag. "Tony and I have different approaches, but that's why it's a good mix to have us on Team Menard," Buhl said. "I think the guys on the team like that mix, too." But Buhl won't hang back too long in the Indianapolis 500 because the jackrabbit of the field - possibly Stewart - could run away with the race. "Somebody could set a rabbit's pace at the beginning, and that might be the pace of the race," Buhl said. "I'm going to drive my car as hard as I can and make sure I'm around at the end. But not so hard that there's nothing left at the end. "It's going to be a fast pace at the Speedway. You're going to have to keep your car in that window. When the last 50 laps come, you better be ready to get with it."


Playing favorites: It's hard to blame Robbie Buhl for calling Team Menard one of the favorites for victory at the Indianapolis 500. After all, he and Tony Stewart form quite a formidable 1-2 punch in the driver's seats, and the talented team probably logs more testing miles every year than any other in the Pep Boys IRL. But Buhl also thinks there are a handful of other drivers who should be considered as contenders for the Borg-Warner Trophy. Buhl's list, with his comments about each driver:

Arie Luyendyk: "Arie will be tough. He's the defending champion. He knows how to get around there." Scott Goodyear: "Goodyear knows how to be there at the end." Buddy Lazier: "Buddy Lazier will be there (at the end)." Davey Hamilton: "I think Davey Hamilton is a contender. He always has good, consistent runs." Jeff Ward: "He ran really well last year. He's another one of those guys who is consistent." Despite his pick of favorites, Buhl thinks this might be one of the toughest years to gauge a favorite. "Nobody is running away from anybody," Buhl said. "It's a tough series. It's so competitive. There are a lot of cars that are capable of winning."


Rookie, open tests: Teams entered for the 82nd Indianapolis 500 can participate in the first-ever open test at the Speedway April 14-18. Rookies will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program on April 14-15, with veterans testing on April 16-17.

Firestone and Goodyear will also select teams to participate in a tire test scheduled for April 18.

Event schedule: Opening day for this year's Indianapolis 500 is May 10, with a full schedule of activities leading up to race day May 24. Qualifications have been shortened from four days to two this year, combining Pole Day and Bubble Day into one exciting weekend May 16-17. Practice will take place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 10-15, with Pole Day qualifications starting at 11 a.m. May 16. Bubble Day qualifications start at noon May 17. Carburetion Day is May 21, with practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and the Coors Pit Stop Competition from 1:30-3 p.m. The 82nd Indianapolis 500 starts at 11 a.m. May 24.


Broadcast schedule: The Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network at noon (EDT) May 24. The ABC and the IMS Radio Network prerace shows start at 11 a.m. (EDT) May 24.

ABC will televise Pole Day live from 1-2 p.m. May 16 and Bubble Day live from 1:30-3 p.m. May 17. ESPN will offer live Pole Day coverage from 2-5:30 p.m. May 16 and live Bubble Day coverage from 5-7 p.m. May 17. ESPN2 will show live Pole Day coverage from 5:30-7 p.m. May 16 and live Bubble Day coverage from 3-5 p.m.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast two live, one-hour shows on Pole Day, at 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 16. Two live, one-hour shows also will be broadcast on Bubble Day, at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. May 17. ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, QVC and the IMS Radio Network also will combine to offer thorough coverage of practice days, Carburetion Day and the Victory Banquet, with other race previews also scheduled.


Tickets: General admission tickets for Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifications can be purchased in advance by calling (317) 484-6700. Reserved race-day tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets are available in advance or at the gate.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Davey Hamilton , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Raul Boesel , J.J. Yeley