FORT WORTH, Texas, Saturday, June 8, 2002 -- The wait is finally over for Jeff Ward. Ward, winless in his first 50 Indy Racing League starts, earned his first career victory with a breathtaking finish in the Boomtown 500 on June 8 at Texas Motor...
FORT WORTH, Texas, Saturday, June 8, 2002 -- The wait is finally over for Jeff Ward.
Ward, winless in his first 50 Indy Racing League starts, earned his first career victory with a breathtaking finish in the Boomtown 500 on June 8 at Texas Motor Speedway, edging Al Unser Jr. by .0111 of a second. It was the closest finish in IRL history, edging the Hornish's .0188 of a second victory last October at Texas.
Airton Dare was third, .0595 of a second behind Ward. IRL points leader Helio Castroneves was fourth, with Felipe Giaffone fifth.
1997 Indianapolis 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year Ward led only one lap -- the 200th and final circuit around the 1.5-mile oval -- in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone. No driver in IRL history had ever won a race by leading just the last lap.
"That was great," Ward said. "We hung in. With two laps to go, they told me P2 (second place), and I couldn't believe it."
Ward made his move for the front in Turn 3, driving on the outside of the 24-degree banking to edge even with Unser exiting Turn 4 with the checkered flag flying in sight. The pair drag-raced down the front straightaway with a crowd of more than 80,000 on their feet, and Ward edged Unser at the line by about a foot.
"I don't know how I did that around the outside," Ward said. "I hadn't done it all night."
Said Unser: "Wardy had the draft around me, and he came around me. I could have tried some bad stuff on the back straightaway, but it ain't worth it. We just came up short.
"It's all wide open and just run it right on the bottom. That's what we did. I thought we had enough. Congrats to the Target team and Jeff Ward. He earned it, for sure."
The victory was worth $112,700 for Ward, who averaged 164.984 mph. But more importantly, it exorcised many racing demons.
"Fifty-one career starts, I didn't know I was here for all those," Ward said. "This erases it all."
The final dash for the finish was set up during the final pit stops for the leaders starting on Lap 190.
Ward made his last stop on that lap, followed by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves on Lap 192 in the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Unser stopped on Lap 193 in the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone along with 2000 Indy Racing League Rookie of the Year Dare in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone.
When the pit cycle ended, Castroneves had the lead on Lap 194. But Unser hunted him down and passed for the lead on Lap 197, with Dare and Ward in tow. Ward turned his fastest lap of the race, 218.045, on Lap 197 to pull close to Unser, Castroneves and Dare.
Seven-time AMA national motocross champion Ward clawed up toward second-place Castroneves on Lap 199, passing him for second before taking the white flag to start Lap 200.
On the final lap, Ward, Unser and Dare played a cagey game of 218-mph cat-and-mouse all the way until the entrance of Turn 3, sizing each other up and looking for an opening. Ward finally made his move on the outside in Turn 3 and stayed there until the thrilling, victorious finish.
"We knew we had to make that last pit stop a good one," Ward said. "In and out, we did it. I didn't even know I was ever going to be in the hunt after the last pit stops.
"I have to thank Little Al for great racing there at the end. I have to thank (owner) Chip (Ganassi). I haven't won in 10 years since I left motocross."
Ward's victory was the first this season for a G Force chassis and the first G Force victory since Unser won last August at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.
MBNA Pole winner Tomas Scheckter was the driver to beat, as he led 94 of the first 159 laps in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. But his car stalled as he tried to exit the pits on Lap 159 for probably his final scheduled stop. The stall caused the clutch to fail, ending Scheckter's race.
The bad luck continued for Red Bull Cheever Racing this season as Scheckter's boss, 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr., was eliminated along with defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. in an accident on Lap 127.
Cheever dove his No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone under Hornish's No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone in traffic in Turn 3, and the two cars touched. Both cars crashed into the outside retaining wall, but neither driver was hurt.
It was the only major incident of a race slowed by four caution periods for 28 laps.
Shigeaki Hattori turned in a career-best finish of sixth in the No. 12 EPSON Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Hattori led 28 laps, the first time he has led during his IRL career.
The next Indy Racing League event is the Radisson Indy 225 on June 16 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Castroneves enters that event with a 227-183 lead in the points over second-place Gil de Ferran, his teammate. Hornish is third at 171.