Ward breaks through in Texas, scores Chevy's sixth straight IRL victory. FORT WORTH, Texas, June 8, 2002 -- Jeff Ward led only one lap in the Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, but it was the one that counted. Ward scored his first IRL...
Ward breaks through in Texas, scores Chevy's sixth straight IRL victory.
FORT WORTH, Texas, June 8, 2002 -- Jeff Ward led only one lap in the Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, but it was the one that counted. Ward scored his first IRL victory in his 52nd career start, edging Al Unser Jr. by .0111 seconds in the closest finish in IRL history. Ward scored Chevy's sixth straight IRL victory of the season and led a Chevrolet sweep of the first five finishing positions.
Ward pulled off an outside pass on Unser as a three-car Chevy freight train barreled toward the finish line. With Airton Dare's Harrah's Chevrolet Dallara tucked tightly behind the gearbox of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force, Ward had just enough momentum to catch Unser.
"I was inching around the outside, hoping Al wasn't going to move up," Ward said. "He stayed low and scrubbed off some speed; that gave me a run to catch up. I sucked up and pulled out. The outside line lets the motor free up. I didn't know I had it -- I shook my fist anyway just in case!"
After four runner-up finishes in his six-year IRL career, Ward's breakthrough victory was popular -- and long overdue.
"I haven't won anything in 10 years, but I never gave up," said Ward. "I forgot what this feeling is all about. This is what you work for. When you don't win, you wonder what's going on. These guys never gave up on me."
Unser led a total of 38 laps in Kelley Racing's Corteco Chevrolet Dallara before coming within inches of notching his third IRL victory.
"I had a great car and it was really hauling the mail," said Unser. "We almost got a win today. No regrets -- I was committed to the inside line. I didn't do anything different from what I had been doing, and just came up short."
The 200-lap race featured the wheel-to-wheel racing that has become the trademark of IRL racing on the high-banked 1.5-mile Texas oval. There were 13 lead changes among nine drivers. Chevrolet engines powered 18 of the 23 starters and took 13 of the top 14 finishing positions.
"Everyone talks about those other motors, but we had a great result and beat them all," said third-place finisher Airton Dare, who drives for Texas racing legend A.J. Foyt. "The car was really good and the engine worked really well through the whole race. No complaints!"
"Everything is bigger in Texas, and tonight's victory by Jeff Ward was huge for Chevrolet," said Glenn Tayler, GM Racing IRL marketing manager. "It marked Chevy's sixth straight win in 2002 and the tenth consecutive victory by General Motors engines in IRL events at Texas Motor Speedway. This is another step in the long journey toward winning the 2002 Manufacturer's Championship. The speed and rock-solid reliability of Chevrolet teams tonight give us confidence as we move forward with the design of the next-generation Chevy Indy V8 to take on new competitors in 2003."
Chevy driver Helio Castroneves took a 44-point lead (227-183) in the championship standing with a fourth-place finish. Gil de Ferran lost ground to Castroneves, his Penske Racing teammate, after encountering transmission problems and finishing 16th, but he held onto second in the standings. Sam Hornish Jr., third in the championship race, was eliminated in an accident with Eddie Cheever Jr. on lap 127. It was Panther Racing's first DNF (did not finish) in 18 races.
IRL teams will venture into the thin air of the Rocky Mountains next weekend for the Radisson Indy 225 at mile-high Pikes Peak International Raceway near Colorado Springs, Colo.
June 16, Radisson Indy 225, Pikes Peak International Raceway, Fountain, Colo., 1-mile oval, 225 laps TV: ABC, 4 p.m. Eastern