Race: Casino Magic 500

Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Date: Saturday, July 9. 2001

Start time: 7:04 PM CDT

Weather: Moderately warm, very humid, overcast

IRL historical: #5 of 13 in 2001 season, IRL race #48 overall

Track historical: IRL race #8, Indy car race #8 at this track

Track configuration: 1.455-mile, quad-oval, high banked

Wing package: speedway


A wild Texas race resulted in one winner, several sore losers, and unfortunately some significant injureies, but also a renewed reputation for the IRNLS after the whipping that the series regulars had taken at Indy. The race came on the heels of the cancellation of a CART race at TMS in April, literally hours before starting time, and the IRNLS had to prove that they could stage a successful race at the intimidating track -- which they proceeded to do. Speeds were fast but under control and the vertigo problems reported by the CART drivers back in April were not noted. The Kelley cars picked up where they left off at Indy by sweeping the front row, with Mark Dismore on pole and Scott Sharp alongside. Eddie Cheever put an Infiniti 35A engine, which had been so troublesome at Indy, in third while Greg Ray struggled in practice and very uncharacteristically qualified 20th -- his worst starting position since ???. The big suprises in qualifying were on the third row, where second-year driver Shigeaki Hattori made up for his Indy DNQ with a 5th-place effort, and Donnie Beechler, given a second shot on his one-race-deal with Foyt, qualified 6th.

At the start, Dismore jumped out into the lead, but Cheever made it plain that he would have to be dealt with by passing Dismore for the lead on the outside of turn 3 on the third lap. Fourth starter Sam Hornish then took the same line around Dismore for second as the field sliced and diced in typical Texas fashion; it took eight laps for Ray to rocket his way into the top-10 from his 20th starting position. Then Sharp, who had dropped a few positons at the start, got on the move; he passed Hornish for second on lap 19 and went after Cheever. Dismore took third from Hornish just a caution flag flew for debris on lap 24.

Everyone pitted under the caution except Jaques Lazier and Buzz Calkins. Shigeaki Hattori came in not under power and lost several laps. A few cars that were handling poorly, including Al Unser and Robby McGehee, made significant adjustments (to no avail as it turned out). The green flew on lap 31 with J. Lazier leading Calkins, Airton Dare, Hornish, Buhl, and Cheever. Calkins started dropping back immediately but Dare passed Lazier for the lead one lap into the green run. However, Cheever went back to work immediately and within five laps had taken the lead from Dare. He then proceeded to stretch out a bit while Dare, Hornish, Buhl, and Ray diced; Hornish and Buhl kicked Dare back to fourth and then Buhl passed Hornish, putting Infiniti engines in the first two positions. Ray was recovering from a bad pit stop and had passed Dare to take fourth by lap 49. On lap 55 Cheever had a 1.5 second lead over a snarling pack paced by Buhl followed by Ray, Hornish, Sharp, and Dismore. Calkins continued to slide back and elected to pit on lap 57 for new tires and adjustments. Meanwhile, rookie Felipe Giaffone was moving up through the field.

By lap 72 Cheever had stretched his lead out to 6 seconds. Then on the next lap, disaster occurred. Jaret Schroeder blew an engine in turn 2 and spun. Davey Hamilton (who had just cracked the top-10) hit Schroeder's oil and tried to ride it out up the high groove, but Schroeder's spinning car collected him. Hamilton backed into the wall, spun 180 degrees right, and hit with the nose of the car. Then, the car inexplicitly started bouncing in the air on its wheels. It spun again, hit with the rear end, and then still bouncing, spun again. This time, the car hit as it was in the air. The nose went over the wall and got caught in the catch fence. For reasons never explained, instead of tearing off, the nose piece remained attached and the leverage it gained from the car's sideways momentum ripped the cockpit in half widthwise. Hamilton suffered severe leg and foot injuries and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. Sarah Fisher, in an unpleasant echo of Atlanta, suffered the bad luck of being hit by flying debris and had to pit with front suspension damage.

All of the leaders pitted, with Ray emerging in first place followed by Cheever, Giaffone, Hornish, and Sharp. Billy Roe stayed out to get a lap back, but during the caution his car caught fire from a fuel leak. He stopped on the back stretch to get the fire put out, but incredibly kept the engine running and drove the car back to the pits. When the green dropped, Ray jumped out into the lead but the driver on the move was Jeff Ward who got a great restart and shot up into fifth, then took fourth from Hornish on lap 91. Cheever was all over Ray, trying inside and outside moves, but Ray was still holding the lead when Cheever had to pit with a flat tire on lap 101. Ward moved up to second, but didn't have anything for Ray who was beginning to drive away when Dare's car trailed smoke and debris front stretch on lap 106, bringing out another yellow. The problem turned out to be a failed rear wheel bearing; the team was able to repair it but at the expense of many laps.

The Panther crew got Hornish out of the pits with the lead, followed by Giaffone (another great stop by the Treadway team), Ray, Ward, Sharp, and Billy Boat. The caution was a break for Cheever who got back the lap he had lost on his green-flag stop earlier. On the restart the rookie Giaffone surprised everyone by getting inside of Hornish in turn 1 and passing for the lead on the back stretch. But Ray took advantage of the opening to pass Hornish in turn 1 on the next lap and then Giaffone for the lead in turn 4. Boat meanwhile had made several passes and was by lap 119 fighting with Giaffone and Hornish for second. Pretty soon Boat had second and then Ward got into the act and took third from Hornish, with Giaffone being kicked back to fifth. Then things started going bad for several competitive cars. Calkins came in on lap 126 with a dead engine computer which had to be changed. Dismore pitted on lap 132 with an ill engine; his team tried to fix it by replacing the engine computer, but the problem turned out to be internal and, after one more slow lap, they took it to the garage. Buhl's Infiniti engine was suffering from the same mysterious alternator ailment that had plagued Cheever at Indy; they had already made one extended pit stop for a fresh battery, and on lap 131 Buhl pitted with another dead battery and the team decided to park it.

The slicing and dicing continued. Sharp had moved up into second and was harassing Ray, with Hornish, Giaffone, and Ward on his tail; meanwhile Buddy Lazier slipped into the top-10. It began to look like Ray was holding up the show; cars started to gather in a pack behind him, and Cheever caught up and passed Giaffone for fifth on lap 146. Ray continued to hold off the dogs as they diced with each other in addition to trying to pass for the lead. Cheever slipped by Hornish into fourth (behind Ray, Sharp, and Ward) just as a caution flew on lap 156. Sharp and Ray drag-raced to the pit line with Sharp narrowly coming out on top; the two nearly wrecked in the warm-up lane as they disputed the position. On the restart Ray got up on the outside and pulled alongside Sharp but couldn't complete the pass; the two continued to run side by side as the other contenders piled up in a draft pack behind them. Cheever ran behind Ray and tried to give him a boost past Sharp, but Ward lined up with Sharp and they all ran together in a two-wide draft for several laps. The two begin to trade off the lead back and forth at the line, running wheel to wheel and neither able to gain an advantage. The crowd got on their feet when Cheever tried a daring three-wide pass on lap 173; he didn't make it and had to back off, getting passed by Hornish and Ward and dropping back to fifth. Cheever soon nosed his way back around Hornish and then assumed the low line behind Sharp, with Ward lining up behind Ray; it looked liked the draft of the cars with the two Menard engines might carry the day as Ray gained the lead going down the back stretch on lap 176, but he went too deep into turn 3 and Sharp slipped under to take the lead back at the line.

Then problems began to develop again. A caution was thrown for smoke and debris from Ward's car on lap 183. Oddly, this was the same problem Dare had suffered earlier: a right rear wheel bearing failure. None of the leaders stopped and the restart order went Sharp, Ray, Cheever, Hornish, Giaffone, Buddy Lazier, and the two Foyt cars of Eliseo Salazar and Beechler. At the green on lap 188, Cheever got the jump and blew past Ray at the line, then went after Sharp on the outside. Sharp, concentrating on trying to hold off Cheever, left the door open on the inside and Ray took full advantage, going breathtakingly low in turn 3 to take the lead. Ray started to stretch it out a bit as Cheever continued to duel with Sharp, Cheever finally completed the pass on Sharp on lap 193, then went after Ray. At this point Cheever appeared to have the faster car and it appeared that the stage was set for an exciting finish.

Then it happened... on lap 195, as the leaders came out of turn 2, they came up on the lapped and rather slow car of McGehee, who had taken a middle-of-the-track line out of the turn. They split the slower car with Ray taking the inside, and Cheever jumping at the opportunity to try a split move on the outside, possibly his best chance to gain the lead. Unfortunately, as they went through, it appeared that McGehee drifted a bit towards the inside, just clipping Ray's right rear wheel as the pass was nearly complete. Ray and McGehee spun towards the outside, collecting Cheever; the nose of Cheever's car punched through the side of McGehee's and into the tub, breaking McGehee's right leg in several places. Sharp made it through the accident and into the lead, and on lap 200 with the race still under caution, was flagged as the race winner.

Even then the race wasn't over. Hornish followed Sharp to an apparent second-place showing, followed in turn by Giaffone, B. Lazier, Beechler, Boat, and Salazar. However, the results were protested by several teams who claimed that they had been passed after the yellow light went on for the end-of-race crash. The next day, after reviewing the scoring, the IRL ruled that Hornish and Beechler had gained positions under the caution and dropped each of them back one position, making the official finishing order Sharp, Giaffone (his best IRNLS finish to date), Hornish, B. Lazier, Boat, Beechler, and Salazar. Even with the penalty, it was a fine showing for Beechler working with a spare car and a pick-up pit crew on his race-to-race deal with Foyt, and that team came out well with both of their cars in the top-10. Al Unser managed to hang on despite all his handling problems and finished eighth, the last car on the lead lap. Jaques Lazier, who had run up front early, had his engine go a little flat near the end and was lapped, finishing 9th. Ray and Cheever were credited with 11th and 12th respectively. There was much unhappiness and finger pointing about alleged blocking, and the IRL issued fines to several drivers after the race.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  2 215.065   8  D/A/F Scott Sharp         Kelley     200     Running   33  50
 2 14 211.111  21  G/A/F Felipe Giaffone     Treadway   200     Running    1  40
 3  4 213.255   4  D/A/F Sam Hornish         Panther    200     Running    5  35
 4 13 211.128  91  D/A/F Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  200     Running       32
 5 10 211.579  98  D/A/F Billy Boat          Beck       200     Running       30
 6  6 213.003  11  D/A/F Donnie Beechler     Foyt       200     Running       28
 7  9 212.483  14  D/A/F Eliseo Salazar      Foyt       200     Running       26
 8 11 211.426   3  G/A/F Al Unser            Galles     200     Running       24
 9 19 209.571  77  G/A/F Jaques Lazier       Xtreme     199     Running    4  22
10  5 213.119  55  D/A/F Shigeaki Hattori    Cunningham 198     Running       20
11 20 209.252   2  D/A/F Greg Ray            Menard     195    Crash FS   86  21
12  3 214.926  51  D/I/F Eddie Cheever       Cheever    195    Crash FS   64  18
13 24 No Spd.  81  G/A/F Billy Roe           Zali       195     Running       17
14 17 210.290  10  D/A/F Robby McGehee       Cahill     188    Crash FS       16
15 16 210.743  12  D/A/F Buzz Calkins        Bradley    188     Running       15
16  7 212.642  35  G/A/F Jeff Ward           Heritage   184  Half Shaft       14
17 21 209.249  32  G/A/F Didier Andre        Galles     184     Running       13
18 18 209.723  15  D/A/F Sarah Fisher        Walker     176     Running       12
19 12 211.142  88  G/A/F Airton Dare         Xtreme     145     Running    5  11
20  1 215.508  28  D/A/F Mark Dismore        Kelley     132      Engine    2  10
21  8 212.594  24  G/I/F Robbie Buhl         D&R        116  Electrical        9
22 23 202.555  30  G/A/F Brandon Erwin       McCormack   72    Handling        8
23 15 211.089   6  D/A/F Jaret Schroeder     Tristar     71      Engine        7
24 22 208.774  99  D/A/F Davey Hamilton      Schmidt     71    Crash T2        6

Time of race: 01:55:44
Average speed: 150.873 MPH
Margin of victory: under caution

Laps under green: 158 of 200 laps (79.0%%)
Caution flags: 6 for 42 laps (21.0%)
#1: lap 25, debirs, 6 laps
#2: lap 73, blown engine / crash (Hamilton, Schroeder), T2, 15 laps
#3: lap 107, stalled car / debris (Dare), FS, 8 laps
#4: lap 157, debris, 4 laps
#4: lap 184, debris, 4 laps
#4: lap 196, crash (Cheever, McGehee, Ray), BS, 5 laps [race ended under caution]

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 15 number of race leaders: 8
St: Dismore 1-2
#1: Cheever 3-27
#2: J. Lazier 28-31
#3: Dare 32-36
#4: Cheever 37-75
#5: Ray 76-110
#6: Hornish 111-115
#7: Giaffone 116
#8: Ray 117-158
#9: Sharp 159-162
#10: Ray 163-164
#11: Sharp 165-169
#12: Ray 170
#13: Sharp 171-189
#14: Ray 190-195
#15: Sharp 196-200

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 15 / 11.5
G-Force: 9 / 14.1
Aurora: 22 / 12.1
Infiniti: 2 / 16.5
Firestone: 24 / 12.5