Race: Kobalt Tools Atlanta 500

Track: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Date: Saturday, July 17, 1999

Start time: 7:30 PM EDT

Weather: Hot and humid

IRL historical: #6 of 10 in 1996 season, IRL race #30 overall

Track historical: IRL race #2, Indy car race #11 at this track

Track configuration: 1.544-mile, quad-oval, high banked

Wing package: speedway


Atlanta in 1999 provided a superspeedway victory to one driver who had had little luck on the big tracks previously, and redemption for several others who had had a difficult time in this season. Sam Schmidt had the fastest car in practice and looked to be the guy to beat; he qualified well but Billy Boat turned in a surprising qualifying run and won the pole, with Greg Ray logging his fifth front-row start in six races. Schmidt was good enough for third and his first IRL bonus point. The field was very closely bunched as 10th starter Robby Unser was less than 1% off the pole speed, an IRL record. One team that struggled through qualifying was that of Scott Harrington. The driver was driving with a broken leg suffered at Pikes Peak, and they blew their race motor in final practice and had to start the race with a borrowed engine.

The race started earlier than the previous year's had due to TV committments. The sun had not yet set at starting time and many drivers complained of the severe glare in turn 1. The start was clean, but Schmidt had a slight problem and both of the Kelley cars got around to take third and fourth. Boat jumped out into the lead, but the field didn't string out much and the top six all remained in close contact. Howver, after just a few laps Ray got around Boat for the lead, then Schmidt worked his way back up, passed them both, and begin pulling away. Trouble started immediately for Jeff Ward. He made an early unscheduled stop for tires, in an attempt to cure a handling problem, but a second stop was necessary to get the problem straightened out. With both stops being under green, Ward fell several laps down. However, other than this, there was little trouble for any competitor in the first seventy laps besides John Hollansworth who spun in turn 2 on lap 29. Hollansworth had light contact with the wall at the left rear, and was able to continue after spending some time in the garage for repairs.

During the subsequent pit stops, Schmidt's car stalled. The crew pushed it down the pit lane trying to start it, and Davey Hamilton got bottled up behind them as other traffic went by. Both cars lost many positions. Boat also had a problem; a pit jam-up made it impossible for him to get into his pit properly, and the resulting slow stop put him at the back of the pack; as the race went on Boat's handling got worse and he would not lead another lap. The green flew on lap 37 with Goodyear leading Ray, Dismore, Hamilton, and Buddy Lazier. The elder Lazier brother was looking strong and the Hemelgarn team had smiles on their faces for the first time in a while. It took Schmidt three laps to make up eight places; meanwhile, Dismore moved up to second as Hamilton fell back. On lap 44, Steve Knapp's car slowed on the back stretch. Seeing that he wasn't going to make it back to the pits, Knapp pulled into an emergency vehicle cove in the infield of turn 3. Apparently the crew there considered towing Knapp's car back to the pits through a gate at that location, but the ISM team had concerns that doing so might disqualify them. While they tried to figure out what to do, the racing went on. Brack and Sharp were running wheel to wheel for 5th, and the cars looked evenly matched as neither was able to gain an advantage. Lap after lap they ran dead even until lap 48 when Brack finally gained an advantage. Cheever, coming back from a slow pit stop (an indication of an incipient clutch problem), had moved up to 8th. At lap 50 the order stood at Goodyear, Ray who had taken 2nd back from Dismore, followed by B. Lazier, the Brack-Sharp duo, and then Hamilton in 6th with Cheever, Schmidt, and Jacques Lazier in 9th.

On lap 52 the officials, having determined that there was no other way to get Knapp's car back to the pit, threw a yellow so they could tow it in. The ISM crew quickly determined that there was a problem with the car's engine computer, which was changed, and Knapp rejoined the fray. No leaders pitted during this caution, the only stops being made by drivers like Raul Boesel who was suffering severe handling problems and received a massive front wing adjustment. When the green flew, Brack went back to work and quickly took 4th with Buddy Lazier reporting a bad push in traffic. At the same time, Harrington informed his crew that he had lost use of his left front mirror; it eventually fell off but fortunately didn't cause a caution.

Things started hopping on lap 66 when Ray closed up on Goodyear and began challenging for the lead, while Schmidt moved to 5th. Shortly there were battles all over the track as Schmidt challenged Dismore for 3rd while the Lazier brothers dueled for 6th. Dismore's defense of his position didn't last long, though; on lap 72 he pitted with a loss of power in his engine. The problem turned out to be a broken exhaust header. It could be fixed but the team lost many laps removing one from his T-car and fitting it to the primary car, while Dismore ruminated for Fox TV about whom his ancestors might have offended in a past life. At lap 76, just before green flag pit stops began, Goodyear led Ray, Schmidt, Brack, followed by Cheever in a Lazier sandwich with Jacques in front and Buddy behind. The latter set off the round of pit stops on lap 78. The next lap, Goodyear stopped, handing the lead to Ray. On lap 80, Cheever stopped and had difficulty departing due to an increasingly balky clutch -- a refrain that several other teams would repeat during the evening. Schmidt pitted on lap 81, and Ray the next lap. As these leaders were pitting, Sharp, Harrington, Eliseo Salazar, and Robby Unser were advancing. On lap 83, with these two driver still not pitted, Knapp spun in turn 2 and collected Ward. They crashed hard into the outside wall, and then as Stephan Gregoire slowed for the accident, he was hit by Ronnie Johncox and they both crashed into Knapp and Ward. The timing of the crash put Salazar and Buzz Calkins back on the lead lap, with Unser the first car a lap down, just behind Ray. All crashed drivers got out of their cars okay, but upon examination Knapp was found to have a broken vertebra in his neck and he had to be flown out. He was to miss the next several races. Tyce Carlson, meanwhile, had caught some debris and he had to pit for a new nose, adding to his pit woes as his gearbox was stuck in fourth gear and he was wearing out his clutch on each stop.

The green flag finally flew again on lap 105, with Ray leading Goodyear, Brack, and B. Lazier. Cheever had fallen back to 16th as a result of his increasingly balky clutch. As soon as the green flew, Brack and Lazier immediately went at it, and as they raced side by side into the quad-oval on lap 105 they had wheel contact. Incredibly, nothing happened and the duel continued. Meanwhile, Goodyear was falling back and the Brack/Lazier tandem swept by to take 2nd and 3rd. This almost immedately became 1st and 2nd when Ray abruptly slowed on lap 108; Brack momentarily took the lead but almost immediately lost it to Lazier as Ray coasted into the pits with an electronics failure. At the time Robby Unser was still right on his tail and Ray's retirement put Unser back at the tail end of the lead lap. Schmidt then quickly passed Brack and set out after Lazier. On lap 112 he pulled up behind Lazier in turn 4 and dogged him down the front stretch. Coming out of turn 2 on the next lap, he drove his car to the left and tried to tuck under Lazier. What happened next was hotly disputed afterwards; either Lazier came down to the left to avoid a lapped car or Schmidt pushed up, or maybe a bit of both, but Schmidt's right front wheel contacted Lazier's left rear and suddenly the nose of Schmidt's car was on top of Lazier's sidepod only inches from Lazier's helmet. Both cars spun and went for a wild 220-MPH ride down the back stretch and into the inside wall. Neither driver was hurt, but both were out and Fred Treadway and Ron Hemelgarn, once partners, were suddenly very angry with each other's drivers. Unnoticed in the midst of all this was that Unser and Calkins got their laps back. The wreck was cleaned up and the green appeared on lap 121 with Goodyear leading but hard into his rev limiter on the front stretch, badly enough for it to be audible in the stands. As a result of sudden retirements of several of the leaders, Hamilton now ran second followed by J. Lazier, Salazar, Unser, and Sharp, and it appeared for a moment that Goodyear might be able to waltz it home.

Jacques Lazier was having none of that, though. On lap 127 he blew by Goodyear to take the lead as Billy Boat was busy getting a lap back. Boat was momentarily back on the lead lap, but lost it again a few laps later as his handling deteriorated. Goodyear recovered and forced Lazier to the high groove on lap 139. Lazier ran the Jimmy Spencer line through turn 1, entering very high and then driving down the hill to retain the lead, but Goodyear finally got him on lap 142. Green flag stops began at this point, with Goodyear giving the younger Lazier the lead back on lap 145. Lazier and then Hamilton and Sharp led in sequence as they pitted; Hamilton stalled on his stop and lost nearly a lap. Sharp held out until lap 158 and then pitted, and for the first time on the day Robby Unser led, becoming the tenth different leader of the race and tying an IRL record. Immediately afterward Goodyear returned to the pits for what was defintely an unscheduled stop. The crew changed the battery and sent him back out, but the engine was not making as much power. They would make several more stops without ever solving the problem, putting Goodyear out of contention although he did finish the race. Unser finally pitted along with Harrington on lap 160. Harrington had been having clutch and gearbox problems all day, and as the two cars departed the pit lane, Harrington's gearbox locked and he spun into the infield in turn 1, bringing out a caution. The caution was a big break for Unser; since he had been in the lead at the time the caution came out, he retained the lead even though he was in the pits.

Suddenly, the race seemed to have a completely different cast of characters. The green flag fell on lap 171 with Unser leading Sharp, Brack, Calkins, and Salazar, those being all of the drivers on the lead lap -- or so nearly everyone thought. Somehow Jacques Lazier had lost a lap during the pit stop exchange. Sharp had found more speed than he had had all weekend; he was running a high groove that no one else could use and passing on the outside with ease. On lap 177 he dueled briefly with Unser and then took the lead and began to drive away. Meanwhile Brack lurked not far behind but unable to make a move due to having to fend off the lapped car of J. Lazier, while Salazar was surprising everyone by taking fourth from Calkins.

On lap 188 Jack Miller blew an engine coming out of turn 2, bringing out a caution and erasing Sharp's margin. Miller spun coming out of the turn but did a nice job to keep the car out of the wall; all the traffic avoided him and there was no contact. During the caution, Joe Truscelli was bending the ears of IRL officials to get a scoring recount on Lazier. The green flew on lap 192 with all of the leaders grouped together. Sharp got a bit of a jump and stretched out a small lead on Unser, while Brack fought to keep Lazier a lap down, or so it appeared. A few laps later the IRL confirmed what Truscelli suspected: the scoring system had missed a lap on Lazier during his last pit stop, and rather than trying to make up a lap he was actually battling Brack for 3rd. This heady territory for the rookie didn't last, though. On lap 206, as Unser was trying desparately to reel in Sharp, Lazier spun coming out of turn 2. He had no contact, but there was no time to move his car out of the way in the remaining two laps. Sharp crossed under the checkered flag two laps later at caution speed, leaving Unser pleased with second place but wondering what might have been.

Quite a few of the points leaders lost positions as a result of this race, including Goodyear, Ray, Ward, Schmidt, and Dismore. Much happer with the outcome was Donnie Beechler, who had to take a provisional to make the field. Beechler finished 8th, a career best and an IRL record for a driver starting from a provisional spot. Buzz Calkins' fifth was his first top-5 finish since 1997, and he tied Davey Hamilton's IRL record for most consecutive races finished. Also an IRL record was the total of 13 cars finishing within two laps of the lead. And, Eliseo Salazar's 4th was his best since his win at Las Vegas in 1997.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  6 214.362   8  D/A/G Scott Sharp         Kelley     208     Running   42  50
 2 10 213.169  81  D/A/F Robby Unser         Pelfrey    208     Running   12  40
 3 14 212.081  14  D/A/G Kenny Brack         Foyt       208     Running   15  35
 4 18 211.309   6  G/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Nienhouse  208     Running       32
 5 20 210.732  12  G/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    208     Running       30
 6 21 210.674  51  D/I/G Eddie Cheever       Cheever    207     Running       28
 7  7 213.338   9  D/A/G Davey Hamilton      Galles     207     Running    1  26
 8 27 Prov.    98  D/A/F Donnie Beechler     Cahill     207     Running       24
 9 11 212.799  30  G/A/F Jimmy Kite          McCormack  207     Running       22
10  1 215.251  11  D/A/G Billy Boat          Foyt       207     Running    2  23
11 25 210.060   3  R/A/G Raul Boesel         Brant      207     Running       19
12 16 211.483  33  G/A/G Jacques Lazier      Truscelli  206     Spin BS   24  18
13 22 210.559  92  D/A/G Johnny Unser        Hemelgarn  206     Running       17
14 23 210.411  55  D/A/F Robby McGehee       Conti      205     Running       16
15 12 212.398  66  D/A/F Scott Harrington    Harrington 204     Running       15
16  5 214.516   4  G/A/G Scott Goodyear      Panther    200     Running   52  16
17  4 214.669  28  D/A/G Mark Dismore        Kelley     186     Running       13
18 19 210.847  17  D/A/G Jack Miller         Tristar    184      Engine       12
19  9 213.321  42  D/A/F John Hollansworth   Xtreme     169     Running       11
20 26 No Spd.  20  D/A/F Tyce Carlson        Blue-Immke 156      Clutch       10
21 15 211.590  91  D/A/G Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  113    Crash BS    5   9
22  3 214.737  99  G/A/F Sam Schmidt         Treadway   113    Crash BS   18   9
23  2 214.848   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard     108  Electrical   37   9
24 13 212.256   7  G/A/F Stephan Gregoire    Simon       87    Crash T2        6
25 17 211.466  22  D/A/G Ronnie Johncox      Tristar     87    Crash T2        5
26  8 213.329  21  D/A/G Jeff Ward           Pagan       83    Crash T2        4
27 24 210.109  35  G/A/G Steve Knapp         ISM         57    Crash T2        3

Time of race: 02:12:15
Average speed: 141.546 MPH
Margin of victory: Under caution

Laps under green: 163 of 208 laps (78.4%)
Caution flags: 7 for 45 laps (21.6%)
#1: lap 29, crash (Hollansworth), T2, 7 laps
#2: lap 51, stalled car (Knapp), T3, 5 laps
#3: lap 88, crash (Carlson, Gregoire, Knapp, Johncox, Ward), T2, 17 laps
#4: lap 114, crash (B. Lazier, Schmidt), BS, 6 laps
#5: lap 166, spin (Harrington), T1, 4 laps
#6: lap 188, blown engine (Miller), BS, 4 laps
#7: lap 207, spin (J. Lazier), BS, 2 laps [race ended under caution]

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 17, number of race leaders: 10
St: Boat 1-2
#1: Ray 3-13
#2: Schmidt 14-31
#3: Goodyear 32-81
#4: Ray 82-107
#5: Brack 108
#6: B. Lazier 109-113
#7: Brack 114-123
#8: J. Lazier 124-142
#9: Goodyear 143-144
#10: J. Lazier 145-149
#11: Hamilton 150
#13: Sharp 151-161
#14: R. Unser 162-164
#15: Brack 165-168
#16: R. Unser 169-177
#17: Sharp 178-208

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 18 / 13.8
G-Force: 8 / 14.9
Riley & Scott: 1 / 11.0
Aurora: 26 / 14.3
Infiniti: 1 / 6.0
Firestone: 12 / 13.8
Goodyear: 15 / 14.2