IRL: Texas II: Tile chase down to the wire

Tight Indy Racing title chases to be settled at Texas. FORT WORTH, Texas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2002 -- The Indy Racing League points chase has resembled a game of 220-mph musical chairs, with drivers being eliminated from contention throughout the...

Tight Indy Racing title chases to be settled at Texas.

FORT WORTH, Texas, Monday, Sept. 9, 2002 -- The Indy Racing League points chase has resembled a game of 220-mph musical chairs, with drivers being eliminated from contention throughout the last few races of the 2002 season.

The music is going to stop for the final time at the Chevy 500 on Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway, and only one seat will be left, for 2002 Indy Racing League champion. The 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval starts at 2 p.m. (CDT) and will be televised live on ABC.

Three drivers -- Sam Hornish Jr., Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves -- have occupied the top three seats all year long in the game. But they've shuffled around, swapping the points lead between themselves four times in the last six races, including after each of the last three races.

After 14 races, 2,900 laps and 4,153.5 miles of intense racing this season, the championship chase will finally conclude at Texas. Just 12 points separate defending Indy Racing League champion Hornish from two-time defending Indianapolis 500 champion Castroneves in the race for the $1-million bonus awarded to the season champion. Hornish, driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone holds a 481-469 edge over second place Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Two-time reigning CART champion Gil de Ferran is 38 points back, with 443 points, and is the third and final driver mathematically eligible for the title. But he will not compete in the Chevy 500 after suffering a concussion and a wrist injury in an accident in the Delphi Indy 300 on Sept. 8 at Chicagoland Speedway.

So, like a classic prize fight, this is a showdown between two of the IRL's true heavyweights. Or a two-man game of musical chairs, with only one seat left.

Hornish needs to finish first or second to win the championship, regardless of Castroneves' performance. If the points' race ends in a tie, Hornish would earn the title due to his season-leading four victories entering this event. That's two more than any other driver, and number of victories is the first tie-breaker.

A tie is possible, too. Here's a possible scenario: Hornish and Castroneves will be knotted at 521 points if Castroneves scores the maximum 52 points by winning and leading the most laps, and Hornish finishes second. But Hornish would have four wins to Castroneves' three, giving Hornish the title.

Since there are only two spots that will guarantee the championship to Hornish, the championship race is wide open to each driver. Each has a chance to not only grab the last chair and the IRL points title, but they each have a chance to make history.

Hornish, the defending series champion, is looking to become the first driver to win the IRL championship twice. Castroneves, the winner of the last two Indianapolis 500-Mile Races, is looking to become the first driver to win the "500" and the IRL championship in the same year. The winner of the "500" has gone onto win the Indy-style championship 29 times since the first "500" in 1911, but it has happened only seven times since 1970, when Al Unser did it. Jacques Villeneuve was the last driver to do so, in 1995.

If either of the two drivers has an edge entering the finale, it's Hornish, based on his performance on "big" ovals. Hornish has scored three of his four victories this season on tracks of 1.5 miles or longer. He won the opener in March at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami track and scored his second victory of the year in March at the 2-mile California Speedway. He is coming off a breathtaking win Sept. 8 over Al Unser Jr. at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway, where he won the closest IRL race in history, holding off Unser by just .0024 of a second.

While those stats favor Hornish, the biggest advantage of all comes from his experience at TMS, where he is the defending Chevy 500 champion and has competed five times. But Hornish did finish 18th in the Boomtown 500 in June at Texas after being involved in an accident with Eddie Cheever Jr. early in the race.

Castroneves hasn't found victory lane on a 1.5-mile track this season but has finished in the top five in all five previous races on 1.5-mile tracks this season.

While the championship chase is certainly the talk of Texas, it is rivaled by the talk of the close racing that has become commonplace at TMS. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jeff Ward's margin of victory of .0111 of a second over Unser on June 8 at Texas Motor Speedway is the second-closest finish in league history. TMS has been the site of six Indy Racing League events that have been decided by less than a second, including the second-, third- and fifth- closest finishes in IRL history.

The trip to Victory Lane in June at Texas was the first for Ward in the Indy Racing League, continuing what has become the most competitive season in IRL history. There have been nine different winners in 14 IRL races this season, tying a league record set in the 1996-97 season. Six of those winners have recorded their first career IRL victory this season.

Felipe Giaffone was one of those first-time winners, on Aug. 11 at Kentucky, also a 1.5-mile track, and he is fourth in the series standings in the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone. He is mathematically out of the points championship, but is only 24 points behind third place de Ferran.

Airton Dare, driver of the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, won at the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas, and could bring home a victory for his legendary Texan car owner, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt.

The Infiniti brigade also should be a factor in the season finale, as Infiniti engines have flexed plenty of muscular power on longer tracks this season. So the leaders of the Infiniti camp, Red Bull Cheever Racing teammates Eddie Cheever Jr. and Buddy Rice, and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing teammates Robbie Buhl and Sarah Fisher, could be threats for victory at Texas, especially since Red Bull Cheever Racing swept the front row at the first Texas race with Tomas Scheckter winning the pole and Cheever starting second. Raul Boesel, Billy Boat, Bombardier Rookie of the Year contender Laurent Redon and Rick Treadway also will use Infiniti power.

The new Indy Racing League development series, the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, will race at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time Sept. 14 in the BG Products 100, and the championship is up for grabs.

A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and a native of Hockley, Texas, has won three of the first six races and has led the point standings for the entire season in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

But Foyt, who has 238 points, opened the proverbial door for his closest pursuers in the title chase after finishing ninth Aug. 25 at Gateway and finishing sixth Sept. 8 at Chicagoland. That trimmed his points lead to 28 over second-place Arie Luyendyk Jr., who has 210 points and is the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. Ed Carpenter, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Jack K. Elrod Co./Futaba/Delphi Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone is mathematically eligible for the championship, with 196 points. If Foyt finishes eighth or better, he will clinch the championship in his home state.

And Foyt, 18, has been strong on tracks of 1.5 miles or longer this season. Foyt's three victories have come on the 1.5-mile ovals at Kansas and Kentucky and the 2-mile oval at Michigan.

CHEVY 500/BG PRODUCTS 100 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Chevy 500 IRL race starts at 2 p.m. (CDT) Sunday, Sept. 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 1 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 14.

Indy Racing League practice sessions start at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 13, and at 11 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Sept. 14.

The BG Products 100 Infiniti Pro Series race starts at 3 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 14. Pole qualifying starts at 5 p.m. Sept. 13. Infiniti Pro Series practice sessions start at 11:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 13, and 12:15 p.m. Sept. 14.

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On the air: The Chevy 500 will be televised live on ABC at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 15. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at noon (EDT) Sept. 15 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 3 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a qualifying wrap-up show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 14. The area affiliate is KESN-FM 103.3 Arlington, Texas.

Highlights from the BG Products 100 Infiniti Pro Series race will be televised at 6 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 30 on ESPN2.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Chevy 500 and the BG Products 100 are available by calling (817) 215-8500.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Jacques Villeneuve , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Jeff Ward , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Raul Boesel , Rick Treadway , Laurent Redon , Buddy Rice , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Al Unser , Mo Nunn , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing