IRL: Schroeder guns for Rookie of Year at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 10 - The Excite 500 Indy Racing Northern Light series season finale at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon should live up to its billing and be exciting for Jeret Schroeder fans. The Vineland, N.J. driver is only...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 10 - The Excite 500 Indy Racing Northern Light series season finale at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon should live up to its billing and be exciting for Jeret Schroeder fans. The Vineland, N.J. driver is only two points out of the lead for the $50,000 Rookie of the Year award, trailing Airton Dare of Bauru, Brazil 124 to 122. Five drivers are still eligible for the top rookie award. Sam Hornish Jr. of Defiance, Ohio is third with 107 points; Sarah Fisher of Commercial Point, Ohio is fourth with 105 and Shigeaki Hattori of Hermosa Beach, Calif. is fifth with 83 points. The series championship will also be determined Sunday between Buddy Lazier, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. Lazier must finish 13th or better to clinch the Northern Light Cup and its $1 million bonus. Schroeder, 30, has led the Rookie of the Year point standings almost all year. He had finished all the races all season until the Atlanta race July 15, a mark matched only by championship contender Cheever. But unfortunately Schroeder dropped out of the race at Atlanta due to an engine problem and he crashed at Kentucky Aug. 27 while going for the lead. That allowed Dare to slip ahead of him in the rookie standings in the nine-race series, but Schroeder is taking that in his usual philosophical manner. "I think the two points aren't that big of a deal," he said Tuesday on his way to Texas, where he plans to relax by going fishing prior to the race. "It's disappointing that we lost the point lead, but we had some unfortunate situations on track in a couple of our events this year. This weekend we just have to get out there and run laps and finish the race, and I have to be in front of Dare when I do it. "The Rookie of the Year award has been my goal all season," he added. "It's something that every rookie strives for because that's their award. Rookies have a chance to get two titles - Rookie of the Year and the championship. All the veterans have is the championship." The Indy Racing Rookie of the Year competition is notoriously close. Last year Scott Harrington of Indianapolis won the prize by nine points over Robby McGehee of St. Louis in the season finale at Texas enroute to a 14th-place finish in the championship overall. Robby Unser of Santa Fe, N.M. was the top rookie in 1998 and Jim Guthrie of Albuquerque, N.M. won the title in the combined '96-'97 season. This will be Schroeder's second race ever on the 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway, the first being the Indy Racing Northern Light race there June 10. "We had a good car in the first race; we were running in the top six before we had electrical problems, but we still finished," Schroeder recalled. "We ran side-by-side and we were three or more deep at times. Once we were even six deep, so it's NASCAR-style racing. The track is smooth and conducive to a great race." Schroeder will also have a teammate for this event - his old friend Zak Morioka of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Schroeder has served as Morioka's driver coach in the past and both are former U.S. Formula 2000 national champions. Schroeder won that title in 1995 and Morioka did the same thing two years later. Schroeder was on hand offering tips as Morioka passed his IRL rookie test last week. According to Schroeder, Morioka will make his IRL debut this weekend driving the same car that Schroeder drove at Kentucky, while Schroeder will be behind the wheel of the Dallara that has previously served as Tri Star Motorsports' back-up car. The race will start at 1 p.m. CDT Sunday. It will be broadcast on ABC on a slightly delayed basis at 4 p.m. EDT Sunday. A pre-race show, Indy Racing 2Day, will be televised at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday on ESPN2. MBNA pole qualifying starts at noon Saturday. It will be carried on ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. All the Indy Racing Northern Light series drivers will sign autographs in the garage area at 4:45 p.m. Saturday after qualifying concludes. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute pre-race show at 1:30 p.m. EDT Sunday followed by live coverage of the race at 2 p.m. That broadcast will also be available live on the Internet at Practice starts at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Eddie Cheever , Shigeaki Hattori , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Jim Guthrie , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Scott Harrington , Robby Unser