IRL: Texas II preview

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001 - With Sam Hornish Jr. clinching the Northern Light Cup on Sept. 2 at Chicago, all of the attention at the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway will turn to the race on the track instead of the ...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001 - With Sam Hornish Jr. clinching the Northern Light Cup on Sept. 2 at Chicago, all of the attention at the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway will turn to the race on the track instead of the statistics.

That only seems fitting. After all, Texas Motor Speedway has played host to some of the most thrilling races in Indy Racing League history.

The 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season will end with the Chevy 500 on Sept. 16 at TMS, arguably the most competitive track in the series. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. (CDT) and will be televised live on ESPN.

No track in Indy Racing has built such a legacy of incredible side-by-side racing in such a short period of time as Texas. Since the Indy Racing debut at TMS in 1997, double-digit lead changes and finishes closer than one second have become the norm.

Perhaps the greatest race in Indy Racing League history took place in June 2000 on the 1.5-mile oval at TMS, when Scott Sharp edged Robby McGehee by .059 of a second - the closest margin of victory in Indy Racing history - to win a race that featured a league-record 31 lead changes.

The season finale last year was nearly as tight, as Scott Goodyear edged 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. by .140 of a second in a race that included 16 lead changes.

This June at Texas, Sharp and Greg Ray swapped the lead many times in the last 11 laps, with 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr. in tow, before an accident involving Ray, Cheever and Robby McGehee with four laps to go forced Sharp to take the checkered flag under caution. Still, eight drivers combined to swap the lead 15 times in the wild race.

Expect the same type of action at this event. There's still plenty at stake for Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers.

While Hornish and 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier have clinched first and second, respectively, in the Northern Light Cup point standings, both will continue their race into the Indy Racing League record books at this event.

Hornish has led 10 of the 12 Northern Light Series events this season, tying an Indy Racing League record set by Tony Stewart in 1998. Hornish, who has led a season-best 650 laps this year, is almost certain to set the record at Texas in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.

2000 Northern Light Series champion Lazier already has won a league-record four races this year in the No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and will look to pad that record at Texas.

While Hornish and Lazier lay claim to the record books, the battle for third through eighth place in the Northern Light Cup standings is intense.

Sharp occupies third with 315 points, just ahead of 1998 spring Texas race winner Billy Boat and 2001 Indy Racing Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone, tied for fourth with 295 points.

Eliseo Salazar is sixth with 276 points, with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. seventh at 259 and Cheever eighth at 249.

Those positions could shuffle easily after this race, with dramatic results. Climbing or dropping a few spots could create a significant difference in the size of the year-end bonus check presented at the Indy Racing League Championship Banquet on Sept. 17 at TMS.

Plus, the driver who has finished third in the series point standings each of the last two years - Cheever in 2000 and Mark Dismore in 1999 - has received an invitation to the prestigious True Value International Race of Champions series the following year, joining the season champion and other top Indy Racing drivers in racing's all-star series.

Looking past the battle for third in the standings, there are a handful of drivers who would love to close the season with their first win of the year. Giaffone, Boat, Salazar, Jeff Ward, Donnie Beechler, Robbie Buhl, McGehee and Dismore each are seeking their first win of the season.

Winning at Texas also can provide quite a springboard for the next season. Just ask Panther Racing.

Panther earned its only victory of 2000 at this event in Goodyear's final race with the team before retiring as a full-time driver in the Northern Light Series. That momentum, combined with the wise choice of Hornish as the team's driver for 2001, resulted in the team's first Indy Racing championship.

While the Northern Light Cup standings are tight, the action on the track could be closer and faster than ever at TMS due to the track's new surface. The entire 1.5-mile asphalt oval was resurfaced during the summer, and the smooth track will be even more conducive to wheel-to-wheel, side-by-side racing at speeds approaching 220 mph.

CHEVY 500 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Chevy 500 starts at 3:30 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 16. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 4:45 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 14. Practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Sept. 14, and 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sept. 15. *** On the air: The Chevy 500 will be televised live on ESPN at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 16. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11 a.m. Sept. 16 on ESPN2. MBNA Pole Qualifying will be televised at 1:30 a.m. (EDT) Sept. 15 on ESPN2. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 4 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 16, followed by the live race broadcast at 4:30 p.m. A qualifying wrap-up show will be broadcast at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 15. The area affiliate is KESN-FM 103.3, Arlington, Texas. The IMS Radio Network race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site. *** Tickets: Tickets for the Chevy 500 are available by calling (817) 215-8500, online at www.ticketmaster.com <http://www.ticketmaster.com> , at Ticketmaster outlets in Texas and at the Texas Motor Speedway Box Office.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Mark Dismore , Donnie Beechler , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing