IRL: Texas win from the pole is Salazar's goal

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2000 -- Car owner A.J. Foyt has not won an Indy Racing Northern Light Series race since driver Kenny Brack took the checkered flag in the Indianapolis 500 in May 1999. The drought has reached 15...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2000 -- Car owner A.J. Foyt has not won an Indy Racing Northern Light Series race since driver Kenny Brack took the checkered flag in the Indianapolis 500 in May 1999. The drought has reached 15 straight races. "I'm going to remedy that on Sunday," vowed Eliseo Salazar, one of Foyt's two drivers this season. That's when the series winds up the 2000 season with the Excite 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Salazar remembers how he closed out the 1996-97 season with his only Indy Racing victory on a similar 1½-mile track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Chilean Salazar thinks a win would be redemption for a season that had championship promise. Still, he has a chance to finish in the top three in the final standings with a good run. Salazar, a month shy of his 45th birthday, holds fifth place with 180 points. In front of him are leader Buddy Lazier with 258, Scott Goodyear, 220; Eddie Cheever, 217; and Mark Dismore, 186. He was in contention for the Northern Light Cup until an accident on the third lap - after he had qualified second and was leading - dropped him out of The Belterra Resort Indy 300 at the new Kentucky Speedway on Aug. 27. "We're the best G Force (in the standings)," Salazar said of his Rio A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "The other four guys have Dallaras. "I'm disappointed that I do not have a mathematical chance to win the championship. The problem with this season is it is so short. Two races are 25 percent. Next year it will be much better." Salazar started the season well. He ran the 200-mile distance at both Orlando and Phoenix, finishing fifth and fourth, respectively, to hold fifth in the early standings. Then at Las Vegas, he led 28 laps before he couldn't avoid a spinning Sarah Fisher, and both cars collided. Salazar finished 18th and dropped to seventh in the standings. He battled his way back up to fourth in the points after finishing third at Indy, sixth at Pikes Peak and 10th at Atlanta. He trailed Lazier by 35 points heading to the inaugural event at Kentucky. He picked up two more points by qualifying on the front row. When the green flag waved, Salazar quickly moved around pole sitter Scott Goodyear and led the first two laps. But as he dove into Turn 1 to start Lap 3, hard-charging rookie Jeret Schroeder, coming from sixth, went low into the turn bidding for the lead. They barely touched, but it was enough to send Schroeder into the wall and take Salazar, unable to regain control of his car, out in Turn 2. Al Unser Jr. and Scott Sharp also became involved in the incident. It removed Salazar from having a last-race shot at the championship. Only Goodyear and Cheever have a chance of overtaking Lazier at Texas. "It took me two or three weeks to get over it," Salazar said. "I would think about it every day, every night." Salazar said that is behind him now. His only goal is to try to win the last race. "The following race is five months away, so you are the only winner during that time," he said. "A.J. will be there, so it is very important. This is the first (full) season he hasn't won a race." Foyt's team didn't win a race in the inaugural Indy Racing League season in 1996, but that was only three races long. Scott Sharp won the first race of the 1996-97 season at New Hampshire, providing Foyt with his initial Indy Racing League victory. In 1998, Billy Boat won at Texas and Kenny Brack grabbed three in a row at Charlotte, Pikes Peak and Atlanta to win the championship. In 1999, Brack added the Indianapolis 500 victory, but there has been no celebrating in the Foyt pits since. Jeff Ward, Foyt's other driver, is 13th in the standings with 151 points. His best finish was a fourth at Indy behind winner Juan Montoya, Lazier and Salazar. Ward drives the Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Salazar thinks his racing luck just hasn't been good this season. In addition to the accidents, he notes that he was only 2 seconds behind Montoya at Indy with 30 laps to go "and reeling him in." A caution allowed Montoya to pit and not lose his lead. "I feel it could be a better season," he said. "Nothing but a win would make A.J. happy." Texas is a track that puts a lot of strain on the engines, Salazar said. The Foyt team will use the latest engine models with improved cylinder heads at Texas, Salazar said. And he added that he anticipates another train of cars battling in a pack, side-by-side at 220 mph, just as was the case in the thrilling Casino Magic 500 in June at Texas. "Hopefully, I'll be in the front of that train," he said. He also hopes to improve his qualifying position by one. He has started on the front row in the last two races - both 1½-mile tracks like Texas. "I want to win the pole and the race," he said. "I have to go with that approach." This will be Salazar's 31st Indy Racing Northern Light Series race. He has been sidelined by crash injuries three times yet has persevered to continue his career. He placed 23rd in the first championship, driving only at Indy, took ninth in the 1996-97 campaign, 29th the next year due to only four starts and 20th last season. So a possible top-three finish would be a major advancement. "I guess A.J. is happy with me," Salazar said. "He's already signed me for next year."

EXCITE 500 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Excite 500 starts at 1 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon Oct. 14. Practice sessions start at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13, and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Oct. 14.

*** On the air: The Excite 500 will be televised on a same-day delayed basis on ABC at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute pre-race show at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 2 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying summary show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The area IRRN affiliate is WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas. The IRRN 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. Live streaming video of all practice sessions will be available at www.LiveOnTheNet.com .

*** *** Tickets: Tickets for the Excite 500 are available by calling Texas Motor Speedway at (817) 215-8500, through Ticketmaster outlets or at Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com . Ticket information is available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com .

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Kenny Brack , A.J. Foyt