IRL: Team Menard Set for Round 2 in Phoenix

PHOENIX (March 24, 1999) - Call it the longest 9½ weeks on the racing schedule, but you can be sure Team Menard has made the most of its time between the Indy Racing League season-opener at Walt Disney World and this weekend's MCI...

PHOENIX (March 24, 1999) - Call it the longest 9½ weeks on the racing schedule, but you can be sure Team Menard has made the most of its time between the Indy Racing League season-opener at Walt Disney World and this weekend's MCI Worldcom 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The "Mickyard" wasn't exactly the happiest place on earth for Team Menard and its new driver, Greg Ray. Gearbox trouble prematurely ended their race day, which started from the outside front row and looked so promising for so long. To be sure this weekend's Round Two of the 1999 IRL season doesn't leave them high and dry in the desert southwest, Team Menard spent a good bit of time on the testing trail with its #2 Glidden-Menards Dallara/Aurora, and showed some impressive results. "We came so close to achieving our goals in Orlando - which were to qualify at the front and leave with a top-five finish - but it didn't quite happen," said general manager Thomas Knapp, who with Ray made his debut in the Team Menard camp at Walt Disney World. "To add insult to injury, we've had to live with that result for the last eight weeks." It certainly hasn't been idle time, however, as the team spent time on the track at Charlotte, and was setting unofficial track records in the annual "Test in the West" here at Phoenix late last month. "To say we've been champing at the bit to go racing again is the understatement of the year so far," said Ray, the 32-year-old Texan whose valiant one-lap qualifying effort at Walt Disney World that missed the pole by just 83-thousandths of a second. "We've done really well in testing the last several weeks, but you can throw all that out the window on race weekend. It's time to go out there and perform." A year ago, Team Menard posted a runner-up finish here with driver Tony Stewart, who left after the season to join Joe Gibbs' NASCAR Winston Cup program. Ray, meanwhile, drove his first race of the season for Thomas Knapp Motorsports and brought an ill-handling car home in 11th place. That team, operating on a modest budget, lacked, among other things, tire pressure sensors that would have detected a problem that in all likelihood kept Ray from finishing among the race leaders. "It could have been a very happy ending, but you do what you can with what you've got," said Ray, who has career wins at PIR in Formula 2000 (1992) and Toyota Atlantic (1994). "This weekend, like at Orlando, we're looking to qualify on the pole, and finish in the top five. I don't think we should settle for any less. Phoenix is a fun, fast track, and the weather is hot. I like the heat, and Phoenix is a great city." "If we don't end up beating ourselves, there's no reason we shouldn't have the field licked," added Knapp. Practice begins Friday (March 26) for the MCI Worldcom 200, with qualifying set for Saturday. The green flag falls on the 200-lap main event at 4 p.m. EST Sunday. It will be broadcast live by Fox Sports Net.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Greg Ray