Track: Phoenix International Raceway
Date: Sunday, March 28, 1999
Start time: 2:05 PM MST
Weather: Sunny and warm
IRL historical: #2 of 11 in 1999 season, IRL race #26 overall
Track historical: IRL race #4, Indy car race #56 at this track
Track configuration: 1-mile peculiar oval, flat track
Wing package: Short track
This year's Phoenix race was a race of many firsts. The surprises started in qualifying. Greg Ray collected his first pole position and Mark Dismore his first front-row start. Formula-car veteran Roberto Moreno, who had run Indy cars on and off since the mid-80s but had never sat in an IRL car prior to the Test in the West at Phoenix in early March, put the Truscelli team (itself making only its second IRL race) in fourth position. However, most of the pre-race speculation centered around the Kelley team cars, which had been consistently the fastest in practice, and Scott Sharp was widely favored to repeat his 1998 victory despite qualifying only 6th. The Infiniti engine program came to this race determined to atone for their failure to put a car in the field the previous year, and their efforts paid off handsomely as Scott Harrington nailed 8th spot on the grid, the best ever for an Infiniti-engined car. It was especially surprising since Harrington's previous best starting position in his IRL career had been only 22nd.
The day started with one car dropping out even before the race began. Jacques Lazier, younger brother of Buddy, was hoping to make his IRL debut; their car had been slow in practice but they were able to claim a provisional. Unfortunately, on race morning they discovered that they had a damaged engine, and lacking a backup car and with no time to change the engine they were forced to withdraw. The other provisional starter, Davey Hamilton, kept his record of starting every IRL event alive but that was about all; his new team (headed by Craig Barnhardt, who had attempted to purchase the Chitwood brothers' team the previous year) suffered with both handling problems and engine computer gremlins, and turned just a handful of laps before parking it. At the start of the race Dismore jumped Ray and sped off into the lead. Scott Goodyear, who had quitely qualified 3rd, soon passed Ray and by lap 15 took the lead from Dismore. Both of the Kelley cars had handling problems on old tires and neither would spend any more time up front this day. There was little passing among the leaders early; Jeff Ward, who had left the ISM team after Disney World, began slipping back in the Pagan Racing car (making their first IRL start in eight months). One car that was on the move early was Tyce Carlson, driving for the same team with which Jim Guthrie had won this race in 1997. He found a high line through turns 3 and 4 and was passing nearly everyone there, and by lap 20 he was up to third place and threatening for the lead. However, the cautions began early and were to disrupt the race for most of the day. Minor trouble occurred when Roberto Guerrero spun in front of a pack of cars coming out of turn 2 on lap 37; miraculously, everyone missed him. A more serious problem happened about ten laps later when Kenny Brack (trying to work his way up into the top-10 from an unexpectedly poor starting position) touched wheels with Robby Unser, who then slammed the outside wall. Unser walked away, but was out; Brack suffered suspension damage, but not serious enough to put him out. He was to run no more green-flag laps this day, however; on the restart Steve Knapp (recently recalled by ISM) missed a shift in front of him, causing Brack in turn to miss his upshift while trying to dodge Knapp. It surprised Raul Boesel who hit Brack from behind. The impact turned Brack's car into Knapp's sidepod; both wound up in the wall. Boesel nearly escaped, but suffered nose damage; when his crew tried to replace the nose, they found problems with the tub which prevented the new nose from fitting. Officials permitted Boesel to make several laps under caution with no nose on the car while the crew worked out the problem. It ruined a promising day for Boesel, who later retired with an unrelated oil pressure problem. Eddie Cheever, who had started 18th, was up to fourth by this time.
During the pit stops Carlson's engine stalled and he found himself in 15th place at the green, wiping out all the hard work he had done in the early laps. He set about rectifying that situation and shortly was back up to 10th. However, as he got caught up in lapped traffic, a plume of smoke appeared in turn 3 on lap 66 and then the engine blew. Carlson got the car slowed down before it spun and just tapped the wall in turn 4, but was out. Despite the poor finishing position, most observers agreed it was Carlson's best performance in the IRL to date. The subsequent caution was to have an effect on the race later; several cars that were near the end of the lead lap chose to pit while the leaders stayed out. The green waved on lap 75 with Goodyear continuing to lead Ray (whose car had been improved at their first pit stop), Cheever, Moreno (doing a very commendable job), Buddy Lazier, and Sam Schmidt. This time Goodyear couldn't get away from Ray and as the cars began to enter lapped traffic on lap 85 Ray was looking to challenge for the lead. Unfortunately, trouble was waiting around the corner, literally, for Ray. On lap 93, John Paul Jr. slid up into the marbles in turn 1, and then slid back to the inside as he worked to save it. Ray, who had moved to the outside groove to try to pick Goodyear, couldn't avoid Paul and a grinding crash resulted. Neither driver was hurt but Ray's best chance to date to win an IRL race went by the boards.
Strategy began to play out on the subsequent pit stops, and it had, at least for the moment, a very surprising result. Billy Boat, who had qualified 23rd (his second-worst ever starting position in an IRL race), had pitted on the caution after Carlson's blown engine, as had John Hollansworth. As the leaders pitted these two stayed out and inherited the first two positions. Cheever, who had been patiently moving up, had an excellent pit stop and moved ahead of Goodyear. Jeff Ward got a good pit stop; his car was much better than it had been at the beginning of the race and he soon moved into the top-5. Surprisingly, after the caution Boat's car was faster on old tires than Cheever and he was able to retain the lead, although Hollansworth got into the marbles in turn 4 on lap 108 and lost several positions. Unfortunately, Boat couldn't get the caution he needed later, and on lap 128 he had to pit under green, losing a lap. There were still 11 cars on the lead lap at this point, led by Cheever. Buddy Lazier had also been moving up; he passed Goodyear for second and appeared to have the fastest car on the track. By lap 140 he had reeled Cheever in and was harassing the leader.
On lap 149, as Cheever was attempting to lap the surprisingly competitive Harrington in heavy traffic, Sharp slowed abruptly in turn 1 directly in front of Harrington, who swung to the outside to avoid a collision. Cheever couldn't get out of the way in time and the two had wheel contact. Cheever's car jumped to the outside and made contact with Lazier who had gone up into the marbles trying to avoid an accident, but the accident happened anyway. Both of the leaders wound up in the wall and the best lead duel of the day came to an abrupt end. Goodyear found himself back in the lead followed by the surprising Ward and, more surprisingly, by Robbie Buhl in Jeff Sinden's Inifiniti-powered entry. Boat now caught a break. With the two cars that had lapped him out of the race, he got to move to the head of the line on the restart. At the green, Roberto Guerrero, had clung to the top-10 all day despite a push condition, crashed in turn 4. Once that was cleaned up, the restart lineup had Goodyear up front followed by Hollansworth in ninth one lap down, and then Ward and Buhl, separated by lapped cars from Harrington, Boat, and Moreno; those were the six cars on the lead lap. Disaster on the restart was averted when Hollansworth's gearbox disintegrated, but everyone behind took prompt evasive action and there was no contact. In the melee Buhl passed Ward for second as Goodyear sped off. It appeared that it might be a runaway, but by about lap 180 Ward had gotten by Buhl and was beginning to reel Goodyear in. Moreno was making a good showing in 4th, but on lap 193 he spun coming out of turn 2, just as Goodyear and Ward had been working traffic. Because of the timing of the caution, Goodyear ended up with four lapped cars between himself and Ward on the restart, and he sped away to take his first IRL win unchallenged.
Goodyear, winner of CART races at Michigan in 1992 and 1994, became only the third driver to have won Indy car races under both CART and IRL sanctions. Second place finisher Ward posted the best finish ever for Pagan Racing in that team's history of Indy car competition. Third place finisher Buhl posted the best finish for the Infiniti engine since Disney World 1997, and together with fifth place Harrington (by far his best ever in the IRL), Infiniti had two top-5 cars for the first time since that 1997 race. Moreno despite the late spin looked very impressive in his IRL debut, particularly considering his very limited experience on ovals. Stephan Gregoire kept his record of finishing in the top 10 at Phoenix alive with a very quiet tenth place finish.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 3 174.554 4 G/A/G Scott Goodyear Panther 200 Running 134 53 2 5 174.064 21 D/A/G Jeff Ward Pagan 200 Running 40 3 17 171.355 44 D/I/F Robbie Buhl Sinden 200 Running 35 4 23 169.731 11 D/A/G Billy Boat Foyt 200 Running 29 32 5 8 173.094 66 D/I/F Scott Harrington Harrington 200 Running 30 6 4 174.334 33 G/A/G Roberto Moreno Truscelli 199 Running 28 7 2 174.622 28 D/A/G Mark Dismore Kelley 199 Running 14 28 8 6 173.728 8 D/A/G Scott Sharp Kelley 198 Running 24 9 20 170.997 99 G/A/F Sam Schmidt Treadway 198 Running 22 10 19 171.135 7 G/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 198 Running 20 11 7 173.527 98 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 197 Running 1 19 12 22 170.495 16 G/A/F Marco Greco Phoenix 195 Running 18 13 26 167.598 3 R/A/G Andy Michner Brant 187 Running 17 14 12 171.985 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 187 Running 16 15 16 171.380 42 D/A/F John Hollansworth Xtreme 166 Gearbox 15 16 11 172.323 50 G/I/F Roberto Guerrero Cobb 160 Crash T4 14 17 18 171.176 51 D/A/G Eddie Cheever Cheever 148 Crash T1 22 13 18 15 171.388 91 D/A/G Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 148 Crash T1 12 19 10 172.670 30 G/A/F Raul Boesel McCormack 147 Oil Pres. 11 20 14 171.576 6 G/A/F Eliseo Salazar Nienhouse 107 Fuel Inj. 10 21 1 177.139 2 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 93 Crash T1 12 22 25 168.445 10 G/A/F John Paul Jr. Byrd-C'ham 91 Crash T1 8 23 9 172.828 20 D/A/F Tyce Carlson Blueprint 65 Engine 7 24 21 170.762 14 D/A/G Kenny Brack Foyt 46 Crash FS 6 25 24 168.840 35 G/A/G Steve Knapp ISM 45 Crash FS 5 26 13 171.739 81 D/A/F Robby Unser Pelfrey 35 Crash T2 4 27 27 Prov. 25 D/A/G Davey Hamilton Barnhardt 31 Handling 3 28 28 Prov. 15 G/I/G Jacques Lazier DR DNS 2
The car #15 did not make the starting grid due to an engine problem after final practice, and was credited with 28th place.
Laps under green: 139 of 200 laps (69.5%)
Caution flags: 8 for 61 laps (30.5%)
#1: lap 21, spin (Guerrero), T2, 3 laps
#2: lap 37, crash (Brack, R. Unser), T2, 9 laps
#3: lap 47, crash (Boesel, Brack, Knapp), FS, 12 laps
#4: lap 67, blown engine / crash (Carlson), T4, 9 laps
#5: lap 94, crash (Paul, Ray), T1, 8 laps
#6: lap 149, crash (Cheever, B. Lazier), T1, 12 laps
#7: lap 163, crash (Guerrero), T4, 5 laps
#8: lap 193, spin (Moreno), T2, 3 laps
Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes
Lead changes: 5
St: Dismore 1-14
#1: Goodyear 15-96
#2: Beechler 97
#3: Boat 98-126
#4: Cheever 127-148
#5: Goodyear 149-200
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish): [does not include the #15
car, which did not start]
Dallara: 16 / 14.1
G-Force: 10 / 14.0
Riley & Scott: 1 / 13.0
Aurora: 24 / 14.8
Infiniti: 3 / 8.0
Firestone: 15 / 15.1
Goodyear: 12 / 12.7