Race: Belterra Resorts 300

Track: Kentucky Speedway

Date: Sunday, August 11, 2002

Start time: 1:30 PM EDT

Weather: Bright and sunny, hot

IRL historical: #12 of 15 in 2001 season, IRL race #68 overall

Track historical: IRL race #3, Indy-style race #3 at this track

Track configuration: 1.48-mile trioval, flat track

Wing package: Speedway


The 2002 trend of first-time winners continued, and the points chase took a dramatic turn, on the newly repaved Kentucky asphalt. The weekend started with a historic twist, as Sarah Fisher became the first woman in known history to win the pole of a major Indy-style race. This took place in a bizarre qualifying session where every team passed up its drawn position and accepted the penalty of only being allowed one lap. Reason: a NASCAR All Pro race prior to qualifying had left a very slick and marble-producing rubber on the track, and everyone wanted someone else to go out first. But Fisher took one of the first runs and raced her one lap into the history books, and also into a track record.

Race day got off on a sour note when IPS driver Jason Priestly was severely injured in the warm-up prior to the IPS race. Fortunately, reports soon came back that while the popular actor/racer's injuries were significant, his life was not in jeopardy and paralysis did not appear to be a problem. The mood improved for those on the IRL grid, including Will Langhorne, making his first IRL start, and Al Unser Jr. making a comeback after missing a month of treatment for a drug abuse problem. Tony Renna, who had ably kept Unser's seat warm with Kelley Racing, was rewarded with a new ride in Kelley's first-ever three-car entry. A more controversial first-time was Vitor Meira, who had been plucked from obscurity by Team Menard and installed in the seat of the #2 vacated by Mark Dismore.

The race started with Fisher getting a jump on row-mate Billy Boat and quickly stretching out a bit of a lead. A huge amount of dicing took place immediately behind, as Gil de Ferran quickly advanced into the top-5 from his 10th place starting position, while Boat tried and failed to hold his position against Felipe Giaffone. Tomas Scheckter did a bit too much dicing; he shot up between the two rows coming out of turn 4, and gained several positions but got caught and received a black flag for jumping the start. Meanwhile, Fisher started to drive away, develping a 3-second lead by lap 19. Was this to be her day? It wasn't going to be Greg Ray's day; the recently luckless driver lasted only 13 laps before pulling into the pits with a dud engine.

The already-rough day got rougher on lap 23, as Richie Hearn challenged de Ferran for fifth. As the two swept through turn 2 with Hearn on the outside, the cars moved together and there was hard wheel contact. Hearn's car shot up into the wall coming out of turn 2 at a high angle, crushing the car's nose. de Ferran made it back to his pit, but had suffered considerable suspension damage including a right front wishbone that was completely broken. Hearn wasn't nearly as fortunate; he was extracted with a broken ankle. All of the leaders made pit stops during the subsequent caution. Boat got a very good stop and emerged with the lead, followed by Sam Hornish, Helio Castroneves, Buddy Rice, Buddy Lazier, Unser, Eddie Cheever, Renna, and Alex Barron. Fisher got a slow stop and rejoined in 11th. Giaffone overshot his pit and had to be pushed back by his crew; he ended up at the tail of the field. Scheckter stayed out and got back the lap he had been penalized at the start. At the green, Boat got a good restart and jumped out into a comfortable lead, with Hornish and Lazier (who made a huge move on the restart) in tow. The race settled into a static pattern for a bit, with Boat stretching out about a 1-second lead over Hornish, followed by Lazier, Rice and Castroneves, with de Ferran popping in and out of the pits as repairs were made to his car. The Penske crew tried desparately to keep de Ferran's points lead intact by putting the car back on track for as many laps as possible. Lazier, looking as strong as he had all season, made an inside move on Hornish and took second on lap 47. By lap 50, Boat had a 2-second lead, while Fisher's car was just at that time getting dialed in with the track as the fuel load burned off.

A yellow flag for debris flew on lap 58, catching the unlucky Jeff Ward in the pits. The timing of the caution was a break for Scheckter who was nearly out of fuel. All of the leaders pitted, with Giaffone emerging in front followed by Lazier, Hornish, Unser, and Castroneves; Boat got a slow stop and came back out in sixth. Fisher took a wing adjustment to correct a push; her teammate Robbie Buhl who had been running at the fringes of the top-10 had to take an extended stop to tighten down the front shock cover which had come loose. Castroneves also took a front wing adjustment, but this one was to correct an oversteer. Laurent Redon had bad luck as the right rear tire would not go on properly; it messed up the wheel bearing and would force Redon to make numerous pit stops until the car's engine mercifully gave out late in the race.

After the stops, several teams reported concern over tire blistering. Various patterns of blister were seen. Boat had a blistered right rear; oddly, Fisher's blistering was occurring on the left front, as was Castroneves'. The race restarted with Giaffone moving out to a small lead, while Unser shot through to second. Pretty soon it became apparent that Giaffone, who was using a low line through the corners and a very wide line on the corner exits, was holding up the pack, and cars began to bunch up behind. Lazier dove low under Unser on lap 72 in turn 4, while Hornish simultaneously tried to pass high; the wild action wound up with Hornish richcheting around both adversaries into second place down the front stretch. Meanwhile, Rice and Boat, contesting fourth, were under assault from the resurgent Fisher. Hornish began working the high line trying to pass Giaffone; the two seesawed back as many cars bunched up behind in a Texas-like draft, a very unusual sight for a flat track. Hornish couldn't complete the pass and he surrendered second to Lazier on lap 84, but Lazier couldn't do anything with the persistent Giaffone either.

On lap 90, Scheckter worked down the front stretch in 8th, with Airton Dare in hot pursuit. Dare noticed Scheckter's right rear tire deflating rapidly. He made a call to his spotter to inform Scheckter's spotter, but before the message could be relayed to Scheckter, the tire went flat as the cars exited turn 2. Scheckter spun and backed into the wall; Dare, following close behind, was unable to avoid hitting him. Neither driver was injured but both cars were out. (Scheckter commented later that he had felt the car becoming sluggish, but thought it was an engine problem.) As the leaders pitted, Renna came in too hot, slid through his pit, and struck several members of his pit crew. Left rear tire changer Bernie Hallisky suffered a serverely broken leg and hip, while fuel man Jeff Horton and fabricator Rusty Hurford received minor injuries. Renna had to go around and come back in, to make his stop in Unser's pit while the injured crew members were attended to. The car required a new left front wing and suspension adjustments; remarkably, all this was accomplished without losing a lap. Fisher again got a slow stop as another front wing adjustment was needed for understeer, while Rice, Meira and Barron got minor adjustments. Surprisingly, Langhorne did not stop and so picked up the lead in his first IRL race.

This caused a near-disaster on the lap 102 restart. Langhorne got a slow restart and as everyone piled into turn 1, cars got four-wide for the lead. Lazier moved inside of Langhorne while Hornish moved outside; behind them, Giaffone and Unser were side by side when Giaffone, gaining rapidly on the pack, made a move to Hornish's outside. Unser was forced to follow, but the abortive five-wide move ended with Unser getting into the marbles. Unser made a brilliant save, but quickly fell out of the top-10 as he struggled to regain the car. There was some debate about whether or not there had been wheel contact between Giaffone and Unser, and that debate got thicker after the race when Unser made it clear in a post-race interview that he was extremely angry at the driver that had done that to him. Unfortunately, Unser confused the situation further by misidentifying the culprit as Eliseo Salazar (who was struggling with handling problems and just barely hangoing on to the lead lap) rather than Giaffone.

Meanwhile, Lazier swept under the whole mess to take the lead. Incredibly, it was the first time in the 2002 season that he had led an IRL rce. However, Giaffone, his car working well in the low groove, pulled under Lazier to take away the lead on lap 106. One lap later, with many complaints about debris left over from the previous accident, the IRL decided to throw a debris caution. During this caution, the safety team walked all of turn 2 and most of the back stretch to ensure that all debris was cleaned up. While this was going on, Langhorne made his pit stop, and Unser, who had fallen back near the end of the field anyway, decided to play some strategy and stopped for fuel. The green flew on lap 112 with Giaffone leading Lazier, Hornish, Sharp, and Boat. Unfortunately, the tire situation got to Boat a few laps later; as he came through turns 1 and 2, it became obvious that his right rear tire was going flat, and as he went down the back stretch the tire disintegrated and flew off the rim. Boat limped back to the pits as the caution flew. Although the pits were closed, Boat was allowed to take on a new right rear per League rules. He went back around and then pitted again for full service as soon as the pits opened on lap 117. At that time, Renna also pitted, for fuel only. Boat's night, which had been very good up to this point, went sour shortly after. The cut tire had caused some suspension damage, and shortly after that incident all three of the top gears went out in the gearbox, leaving Boat circulating slowly in third gear for the rest of the race.

A restart on lap 123 was aborted when Rice spun in turn 2 in a pack; incredibly, everyone missed him and he pressed on. Things picked up with Giaffone leading and running the bottom groove in the turns, while Hornish tried to pass him using a high groove. Hornish got alongside but couldn't complete the pass as Giaffone was faster coming off of turn 4 and down the front stretch, but Giaffone couldn't pull away because Hornish was faster into the turns. As they raced side by side, other cars stacked up behind. Lazier held down third with Charp and Castroneves in the mix, but Fisher's car was handling better and she worked through both of them to take fourth. As Giaffone and Hornish traded the lead, on lap 143 Fisher got underneath Lazier to take third, and then on the next lap she took advantage of Hornish's high moves to slip under for second. However, she soon found that she couldn't get under Giaffone, whose car was working well in the bottom groove, and when she tried the high groove Hornish got under her to retake second.

Pit stops began at lap 150 with Cheever pitting; Meira pitted on lap 156. Unfortunately for them, the IRL was compelled to call a debris caution on lap 159 because of marbles accumulating on the track and continued concern about the bistering tires. After the previous round of stops, some teams had reported tire temperatures in excess of 220 degrees, and the IRL felt that there was too much danger in allowing the cars to continue on their old tires until their scheduled stops. At the time of the caution Hornish had just managed to finally complete the pass for the lead by using the fairly fast lapped car of George Mack as a pick on Giaffone; the were followed by Sharp, Fisher, and Lazier, with Unser, Castroneves, Buhl, Barron, and Renna completing the top-10. All of the leaders pitted except Cheever, who stayed out to regain his lost lap. Once again Fisher got a wing adjustment and a slow stop, emerging in 8th. Giaffone got a good stop and retained the lead, followed by Sharp and Castroneves.

The race picked up for the final time on lap 165. Giaffone led Sharp at the green, but Lazier quickly passed Sharp to have a run at Giaffone. Lazier spent the next fifteen laps working the outside line very hard; on lap 178, it appeared he had the move coming out of turn 2, but Giaffone deftly worked lapped traffic on the back stretch to retain the lead. Lazier tried a line that might let him make an inside move, but Giaffone had the bottom groove pinned down, and by lap 185 Lazier's tires were burned down and he couldn't do any more. On lap 190, with Giaffone maintaining a slim lead, Hornish took the outside move on Lazier. Hornish was determined to make maximum advantage of his opportunity to gain points on de Ferran by taking every position he could, and the five-point differential between second and third made it well worth pursuing. Meanwhile, de Ferran's teammate Castroneves was feeling his car suddenly fading very rapidly, and he quickly lost fourth position to Sharp, but then rallied to hold off the other Kelley cars of Unser and Renna. On lap 196 Hornish completed the pass on Lazier and set out after Giaffone with time running out, but again Giaffone was able to use lapped traffic to keep Hornish on his outside for the remainder of the race. Hornish had one more run going down the front stretch on lap 199, but he pushed up in turn 1 and that was it. Hornish valiantly made one more run coming out of 4, but there wasn't time and Giaffone took his first IRL victory by a car length, with Lazier close behind Hornish. It was a good day for Giaffone, not only because he won the race but also because the 52 points he earned moved him into serious contention for the championship. It was a pretty good day for Lazier, who ran in contention all day and scored his first top-5 finish of the season. It was not so good a day for Richie Hearn, who had to have ankle surgery after the race, or for Renna's crew member Hallisky. And it wasn't a good day for de Ferran; his team's heroic efforts gained them only four positions due to the low attrition, costing him the points lead. It was the end to a bad summer for Ray, who was released by the Foyt team the day after the race. But in a way, the day's big winner was Hornish, who gained 31 points on the luckless de Ferran and assumed the points lead. Overall, the top of the points chart suddenly got a lot tigheter, with Hornish, Castroneves, de Ferran, and Giaffone separated by only 17 points. Giaffone became the ninth different driver to win in the 2002 season, tying the record set in 1997. The 13 cars on the lead lop at the finish set an IRL record.

Fin St  Qual  Car  C/E/T    Driver            Entrant  Laps     Status  Laps Pts
        Spd    #                                                         Led
 1  3 220.430  21  G/C/F Felipe Giaffone     Nunn       200     Running  124  52
 2  5 220.341   4  D/C/F Sam Hornish         Panther    200     Running    7  40
 3  9 219.866  91  D/C/F Buddy Lazier        Hemelgarn  200     Running    3  35
 4 21 215.441   8  D/C/F Scott Sharp         Kelley     200     Running       32
 5  4 220.387   3  D/C/F Helio Castroneves   Penske     200     Running       30
 6 14 218.328   7  D/C/F Al Unser            Kelley     200     Running       28
 7 12 219.156  78  D/C/F Tony Renna          Kelley     200     Running       26
 8  1 221.390  23  G/I/F Sarah Fisher        D&R        200     Running   26  24
 9 16 217.694  44  D/C/F Alex Barron         Blair      200     Running       22
10 20 216.022  24  G/I/F Robbie Buhl         D&R        200     Running       20
11  7 220.072  51  D/I/F Eddie Cheever       Cheever    200     Running       19
12  6 220.264  53  D/I/F Buddy Rice          Cheever    200     Running       18
13 11 219.400  12  D/I/F Raul Boesel         Bradley    200     Running       17
14 25 213.901  11  D/C/F Eliseo Salazar      Foyt       199     Running       16
15 13 218.691   2  D/C/F Vitor Meira         Menard     199     Running       15
16 23 214.571   9  G/C/F Jeff Ward           Ganassi    197     Running       14
17 24 214.319  31  G/C/F George Mack         310        196     Running       13
18 19 216.577  55  G/C/F Will Langhorne      Treadway   196     Running    9  12
19  2 221.364  98  D/I/F Billy Boat          C-A-B      195     Running   31  11
20 15 218.148  34  D/I/F Laurent Redon       Conquest   177      Engine       10
21 10 219.557   6  D/C/F Gil de Ferran       Penske     172     Running        9
22 17 217.557  52  D/I/F Tomas Scheckter     Cheever     89    Crash T2        8
23 22 215.102  14  D/C/F Airton Dare         Foyt        89    Crash T2        7
24  8 219.972  20  D/C/F Richie Hearn        Schmidt     23    Crash T2        6
25 18 217.371  41  D/C/F Greg Ray            Foyt        13      Engine        5

Time of race: 01:59:11
Average speed: 149.024 MPH
Margin of victory: 0.0932 seconds

Laps under green: 175 of 200 laps (87.5%)
Caution flags: 7 for 50 laps (25.0%)
#1: lap 23, crash (de Ferran, Hearn), T2, 10 laps
#2: lap 57, debris, T2, 6 laps
#3: lap 90, crash (Dare, Scheckter), T2, 12 laps [duuring caution: crash (Renna), pit]
#4: lap 106, debris, BS, 6 laps
#5: lap 115, blown tire (Boat), BS, 8 laps
#6: lap 123, spin (Rice), T2, 2 laps
#7: lap 159, tire inspection, 6 laps

Red flags: 0 for 0 minutes

Lead changes: 11; number of race leaders: 6
St: Fisher 1-26
#1: Giaffone 27
#2: Boat 28-58
#3: Hornish 59
#4: Giaffone 60-93
#5: Langhorne 94-102
#6: B. Lazier 103-105
#7: Giaffone 106-151
#8: Hornish 152
#9: Giaffone 153-156
#10: Hornish 157-161
#11: Giaffone 162-200

C/E/T finish averages (# started / avg finish):
Dallara: 19 / 13.4
G-Force: 6 / 11.7
Chevy: 17 / 12.4
Infiniti: 8 / 14.4