Track: Texas Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday, June 11, 2000
Start time: 12:05 PM CDT
Weather: Moderately warm, very humid, overcast
IRL historical: #5 of 10 in 2000 season, IRL race #39 overall
Track historical: IRL race #6, Indy car race #6 at this track
Track configuration: 1.455-mile, quad-oval, high banked
Wing package: speedway
A race with incredible competition opened even the die-hard IRNLS fans' eyes as to the level of competition the series was capable of attaining. But it almost didn't happen at all, as a combination of circumstances nearly didn't allow the event to be held this weekend at all. Practice and qualifying were to be on Thursday for what was to have been a Saturday night race. However, the track's always-present dip in turn 4 became notorious when both Davey Hamilton and Jimmy Kite suffered suspension failures in that corner during the first practice, forcing both cars to turn hard right into the wall. Neither driver was injured, but the severity of the crashes was enough to compel the IRNLS to postpone qualifying. Both drivers had been in G-Force cars and the manufacturer subsequently recomended that all teams switch to a spring push rod made by Dallara; the IRNLS technical team also mandated that certain spring rates be used in the rear suspension.
Unfortunately, the next day, a tropical storm moved into the area. The weather teased, with periods of sun just long enough to get the track dry before the next rain. Qualifying was nearly complete, with Mark Dismore on the provisional pole, when the rain returned with only six cars left to run. The session was cancelled and the starting lineup set by entrant points, and a final practice session was scheduled for Saturday morning. But when the storm lingered, causing flooding in the Dallas area on Saturday, the race was postponed to Sunday afternoon with a final practice in the early morning. Mercifully, on Sunday, the rain held up long enough to get the practice in and the race started on time. The setting of the starting grid resulted in Buddy Lazier starting from the pole, for the first time since the very first IRNLS race in 1996. The field's 27 cars included Billy Roe, starting an IRNLS race for the first time in two years, driving for the new team of Dr. Jim Logan.
From the start it became immediately apparent that this race would be like no other open-wheel race ever held, anywhere, in any series. Scott Goodyear shot through the field at the start and took the lead from Lazier in turn 1 -- but then Lazier came back on the inside and retook the lead at the line. However, Goodyear held his position and retook the lead with an outside pass in turn 3, while Mark Dismore worked the draft and maneuvered his way to 2nd. The tone was set for the afternoon: all of the leaders in one big NASCAR-style draft, with no one able to pull away. Dismore took the lead from Goodyear on lap 11 and held it until lap 16, while wild passing took place immediately behind him. Lazier was in the lead when rain struck once again and forced a red flag on lap 19. It was the first time since 1997 that an IRNLS race had been red flagged for rain. At the time of the red flag the top-5 were Lazier, Dismore, Eliseo Salzar, Donnie Beechler, and Goodyear.
Several teams took advantage of the red flag to make repairs or change things that they normally wouldn't change during the race. Dismore was complaining of a sticking throttle (like that mattered) and his crew took the cover off the front to access the footbox and move some wiring bundles. Tyce Carlson was hitting his RPM limiter in sixth gear, so his team removed his gearbox and changed all the gear ratios. Lazier's engineer downloaded some new engine maps to his engine computer to improve his car's throttle response. The teams of Doug Didero and Robby Unser tried to use the time to repair fluid leaks, without success; both would retire. Donnie Beechler and the Cahill team made an unusual change: several drivers had complained about moves that Beechler made in traffic, so they replaced their spotter.
Fortunately, the rain was not heavy and soon quit, and in about 40 minutes the track was ready to go. The green resumed with Salazar swiping 2nd from Dismore and then challenging Lazier, but the Colorado driver held the lead for a bit with the dogs nipping at his heels. By lap 30 a double-line draft had built up, with Salazar outside of Lazier for the lead, Sharp outside of his teammate Dismore for 3rd, and Eddie Cheever (who had won an IROC race at Michigan the previous day) under Goodyear for 5th. Al Unser had moved up to 6th as the leaders begin to hit traffic at lap 34, while Robbie Buhl, who had started on the front row (with a new engine; the Dreyer & Reinbold team had just switched to Infiniti) began to fade with drivetrain problems. By lap 38 eight cars were in the lead group and Lazier appeared to be holding up the show. But he held on until Unser took the lead on lap 48, and then got abruptly shuffled back in the draft out of the top-5, while rookie Sam Hornish made a surprise appearance in fifth. Hornish's time near the front didn't last, though; his alternator wasn't working and on lap 55 he had to pit with a dead battery. This moved Jeff Ward into the top-5 for the first time in the race, just in time to see Sharp charge into the lead on lap 56.
On lap 61 Roe slowed in turn 3 with smoke coming out, and went to the garage with a failed engine. He stated later that the red flag had not done their engine any good; heat soakback caused a cylinder head to crack. Beechler had faded after the red flag and later retired with the same problem. Everyone was at the end of their fuel windows, and so all the lead-lap cars pitted. Buhl had to make a second stop, though; his crew hadn't gotten the left front wheel tightened, and it came off as he exited the pits. Lazier retained the lead followed by Unser, Salazar, Sharp, and Ward. Jaret Schroeder and Stephan Gregoire got good service and cracked the top-10 for the first time. At the green, Lazier broke the draft momentarily and jumped out to a half-second lead. But in three laps the draft reeled him in and lap 73 saw Lazier, Unser, and Salazar going three-wide through turns 3 and 4. With rain still a possibility, Lazier was determined to hang on to the lead, and resorted to tricks like snaking down the straights, resulting in a huge oscillating conga line on the back stretch. It didn't work; Unser took the lead on lap 79 as Goodyear moved up to 3rd. Nine cars were in the lead draft.
The leaders then all got side by side. Lazier and Unser went wheel to wheel, lap after lap, for the lead as Salazar and Goodyear did the same behind them, and Sharp and Cheever behind them. This amazing racing display saw Lazier and Unser trade the lead nine times from the green flag to lap 95. But it slowed the leaders' progress and allowed other cars, including Greg Ray (who was having a persistant problem with his engine stalling on pit stops) and Sarah Fisher (who was fighting some electronics gremlins) to catch up.
Cheever had worked his way up to 2nd by lap 109 when Unser pitted, handing him the lead. Unser, although fast, wasn't achieving good fuel mileage and it would cause him problems later. Salazar pitted two laps later, but most everyone else stretched a few more laps. Cheever pushed his luck too far, though; he ran out of fuel on lap 118, costing him a lap. Everyone else had uneventful stops (with the exceptions of Ward, who stalled, and Buhl, who was having clutch problems), and things cycled back around by lap 122 with Unser back in the lead and trying to keep Cheever a lap down, followed by Lazier and Salazar contesting second. By lap 130 the lead draft had re-formed, with Unser leading Lazier, the lapped car of Cheever, Salazar, Goodyear, and Dismore, with Sharp closing rapidly.
Unser continued to maintain the lead, but at the expense of fuel consumption. Among the earlier contenders, Cheever, Ward, Ray, and Fisher had lost laps. By lap 140 Unser and Lazier ran 1-2 with position changes taking place behind them nearly every lap. Goodyear was beginning to lose positions while Airton Dare was up to 9th. The action continued with Unser pitting (somewhat prematurely) on lap 159. Lazier assumed the lead, but ran out of fuel on lap 164; Salazar also pitted on that lap, handing the lead to Dismore. Most of the other leaders pitted, but the Kelley cars were getting excellent mileage, and they were still out and running 1-2 (Sharp leading) when Ward's engine blew on lap 167, bringing out a caution and catching most of the leaders a lap down.
The Kelley cars had the lead lap to themselves -- almost; a rather surprised Buzz Calkins found himself in 3rd and the only other car on the lead lap. Calkins may not have been the only one surprised; even though he was in 4th on the grid during qualifying before the rains came, few had expected him to be a factor in the race. The leaders' pit stops enabled some of the lapped cars to get on the tail end of the lead lap, though. Dismore was next the one surprised when Calkins ran him down after the green and passed for 2nd on lap 179. On the next lap Salazar suffered the same fate as his teammate Ward, and brought out another caution. This made things more interesting as Unser, Goodyear, Robby McGehee, and his teammate Shigeaki Hattori (making his first IRNLS start) got back on the lead lap. McGehee had picked up speed during the race and was 4th at the green, but stuck behind some traffic as the 4-6 cars had pitted while the Kelley cars and Calkins stayed out. Hattori's time near the front didn't last long because he was penalized for speeding in the pits.
After the green things started happening very quickly. Sharp got a big jump and built a 3-second lead, as dark clouds loomed behind turn 3 and rain was visible in the distance. Dismore suddenly experienced a power loss and started backwards (after the race they found they had a broken spark plug). Sharp tried to drive away from the field, with the lapped car of Ray as a drafting partner, but McGehee was on a mission and by lap 191 he had passed Calkins for second and was off after Sharp. Unser was also in the chase and took 3rd from Dismore, but was having difficulty without drafting help. On lap 194 Sharp led Mcgehee by 2 seconds, but the second-year driver was gaining about three-tenths a lap. On lap 197 it was 1.5 sec; on lap 199 it was 0.8 sec, and on lap 200, with eight laps to go, Mcgehee was on Ray's tail.
It took only one lap for McGehee to dispatch Ray, and the battle was on. On lap 202 they went three wide with the lapped car of Fisher. McGehee edged out ahead momentarily on the back stretch, but Sharp came back in turn 4 and got a better run on the front stretch. They went into turn 1 wheel to wheel. On lap 204 McGehee again had the lead briefly and it looked like he would complete the pass, but Sharp moved down very low in turns 3-4 and held on. Things got more complicated on lap 205 when Ray's engine blew; the leaders weren't effected but Calkins had to brake to avoid Ray, and lost third to Unser. A thrilling final lap had Sharp on the inside and McGehee even with him on the outside at the white flag. Sharp got a better run into turn 1 and McGehee had to give ground on the back stretch. He settled in behind to try a final slingshot out of turn 4, but Sharp did a good job of snaking down the front stretch. Just as they reached the line McGehee found purchase again on the outside but it was too late. Sharp won by a car length, in the closest finish in IRNLS history. Gregoire lost a solid top-10 finish when he had to pit with a flat tire on the white-flag lap.
(Unfortunately most of the TV audience never got to see this. With five laps to go, ESPN2 experienced a loss of signal due to weather at their headquarters in Connecticut. Unfortunately, at 2:30, the scheduled end of the race, they cut away to another program without returning to the track or updating the status. They did cut into their other program to run the final five laps later, on tape, but few people were still watching to catch it.)
The race set IRNLS records for average speed (the record Juan Montoya had set at Indy lasted all of two weeks), time to complete (not counting the red flag time), and closeness of finish. With 31 lead changes, the race destroyed the previous IRNLS record, which had been set at Indy in 1998. And, for the first time in IRNLS history, there were no cautions for crashes and no crash DNFs. The win made Sharp the IRNLS's all-time leader, and McGehee's second place was his best career finish to date. Twenty minutes after the end of the race, the track was engulfed in a downpour.
Fin St Qual Car C/E/T Driver Entrant Laps Status Laps Pts Spd # Led 1 12 Points 8 D/A/F Scott Sharp Kelley 208 Running 38 50 2 14 Points 5 G/A/F Robby McGehee Treadway 208 Running 3 40 3 9 Points 3 G/A/F Al Unser Galles 208 Running 79 37 4 19 Points 12 D/A/F Buzz Calkins Bradley 208 Running 32 5 3 Points 4 D/A/F Scott Goodyear Panther 208 Running 6 30 6 6 Points 28 D/A/F Mark Dismore Kelley 208 Running 13 28 7 1 Points 91 D/A/F Buddy Lazier Hemelgarn 207 Running 62 26 8 26 Points 55 G/A/F Shigeaki Hattori Treadway 207 Running 24 9 5 Points 51 D/I/F Eddie Cheever Cheever 207 Running 6 22 10 20 Points 88 G/A/F Airton Dare Xtreme 207 Running 20 11 15 Points 7 G/A/F Stephan Gregoire Simon 205 Running 19 12 25 Points 15 D/A/F Sarah Fisher Walker 204 Running 18 13 20 Points 20 D/A/F Tyce Carlson Hubb-Immke 204 Running 17 14 18 Points 33 G/A/F Jacques Lazier Truscelli 204 Running 16 15 17 Points 1 D/A/F Greg Ray Menard 202 Engine 15 16 23 Points 27 G/A/F Jimmy Kite Blueprint 201 Running 14 17 4 Points 11 G/A/F Eliseo Salazar Foyt 179 Engine 1 13 18 2 Points 24 G/I/F Robbie Buhl D&R 179 Running 12 19 7 Points 14 G/A/F Jeff Ward Foyt 168 Engine 11 20 13 Points 18 D/A/F Sam Hornish PDM 131 Battery 10 21 10 Points 6 D/A/F Jaret Schroeder Tristar 124 Gearbox 9 22 8 Points 98 D/A/F Donnie Beechler Cahill 115 Engine 8 23 11 Points 81 D/A/F Billy Boat Pelfrey 107 Fuel Pump 7 24 22 Points 84 G/A/F Davey Hamilton Xtreme 84 Engine 6 25 27 Prov. 19 D/A/F Billy Roe Logan 60 Engine 5 26 21 Points 30 R/A/F Robby Unser Byrd-McCor 34 Water Leak 4 27 24 Points 43 D/A/F Doug Didero MidAmerica 26 Oil Leak 3
Laps under green: 185 of 208 laps (88.9%%)
Caution flags: 4 for 23 laps (11.1%)
#1: lap 19, rain, 4 laps
#2: lap 62, blown engine (Roe), T4, 6 laps
#3: lap 171, blown engine (Ward), T4, 6 laps [during caution: stalled car (Hornish), BS]
#4: lap 181, blown engine (Salazar), T1, 7 laps
Red flags: 1 for 37 minutes
#1: lap 20, rain, 0:37
Lead changes: 31 (IRNLS record to date); number of race leaders: 8
St: B. Lazier 1-2
#1: Goodyear 3-4
#2: B. Lazier 5-7
#3: Goodyear 8-11
#4: Dismore 12-16
#5: B. Lazier 17-28
#6: Salazar 29
#7: B. Lazier 30-45
#8: A. Unser 46-54
#9: Sharp 55
#10: A. Unser 56-62
#11: B. Lazier 63
#12: A. Unser 64-65
#13: B. Lazier 66-78
#14: A. Unser 79
#15: B. Lazier 80
#16: A. Unser 81
#17: B. Lazier 82-86
#18: A. Unser 87
#19: B. Lazier 88
#20: A. Unser 89-90
#21: B. Lazier 91-93
#22: A. Unser 94-111
#23: Cheever 112-117
#24: McGehee 118
#25: Dismore 119-121
#26: A. Unser 122-159
#27: B. Lazier 160-164
#28: Dismore 165-169
#29: Sharp 170-201
#30: McGehee 202-203
#31: Sharp 204-208
C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 15 / 14.0
G-Force: 11 / 12.9
Riley & Scott: 1 / 26.0
Aurora: 25 / 14.0
Infiniti: 2 / 13.5
Firestone: 27 / 14.0