COMEDY OF ERRORS
Three would-be victors screwed up, giving Kenny Brack an Indy win
Of the four replacement-driver Indianapolis 500s run since the
Indy car circuit split, Sunday's was the most interesting. A.J.
Foyt, who won four 500s as a driver, was back in the Brickyard's
victory circle for the first time in 22 years, this time as owner
of the victorious car driven by Kenny Brack. Brack was there
largely because of foul-ups by three of his toughest rivals: pole
sitter Arie Luyendyk, Greg Ray and Robby Gordon.
For more than half the race two-time Indy winner Luyendyk, who
had announced that he was retiring from driving after this 500,
looked as if he would go out a champion. But while leading with
82 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, he spun and crashed while
trying to pass a slower car.
An even more stunning miscue was committed by Ray. After
inheriting the lead from Luyendyk and pitting under caution with
80 laps to go, Ray never made it back onto the track. "I have no
idea what happened," said Ray after the race. "I was told to go,
and I did. The next thing I knew, I went sideways into the pit
wall." Instead of pulling cleanly into the inside lane of the pit
road, where he was supposed to proceed until he could blend into
pit traffic, Ray partly crossed the white line into the outside
lane, bounced off Mark Dismore's car, which happened to be
proceeding along that lane, and went into the pit wall.
Thus the race boiled down to a duel between Brack and Gordon, the
only regular CART driver this year to break the organization's
boycott of Indy. Gordon held the lead from Lap 171 until he ran
out of fuel with just over a lap remaining. He was so frustrated
after the race that he howled, "Aw, s---!" on live TV and again
during a press conference. "Kenny didn't have the speed for us at
the end of the race," Gordon added. "No way."
Brack, 33, a Swedish-born Formula One dropout, all but agreed.
"At the end I was running as fast as I could into the corners,
and the car was slipping in the front end and slipping in the
rear end," he said. "I was hanging onto it, just trying to catch
Even after Gordon dropped out, Brack and Foyt had a
miscommunication that could have jeopardized the win. From the
pits Foyt could see Gordon slowing down. "He told me on the
radio, 'Bring it on in, you've got it won,'" Brack said. "I
started slowing down." Then it dawned on Brack that it wasn't
the checkered flag that he had just passed, but the white flag,
signaling one lap to go. "I guess we did have it won," said
Brack. "I just hadn't won it yet."
FRANCE STEPS IN, TALKS HEAT UP
The return of CART teams to the Indianapolis 500 by next year
would be a certainty if it weren't contingent upon the moods of
mercurial Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George.
Publicly, George remains defiant in defense of his Indy Racing
League, whose framework for cost containment and rules
moderating engine and chassis design have prevented CART teams
from racing at Indy since 1996 without building radically
different cars. Privately, he continues to listen to the peace
offerings of a growing alliance of racing leaders and
manufacturers led by the most influential man in U.S. motor
sports, Bill France, who's president of NASCAR and chairman of
International Speedway Corp. (ISC), which owns the world's
largest group of race tracks--10--with four more in various
stages of development.
"There's no question that we can pull the Indy 500 and American
open-wheel racing back together," says team owner Roger Penske, a
CART cofounder whose cars won the Indy 500 a record 10 times
before the schism, "but one man has to make that decision, and
Tony is the guy."
Others in the alliance won't speak on the record out of fear
that even the best-intended remarks might offend the volatile
George and inadvertently undermine negotiations. Even France was
walking on eggshells last weekend and would say only, "It would
be premature for me to comment on this matter."
For those who understand Francespeak, premature says volumes
about what's going on. In the past France has maintained that
open-wheel racing was none of his business, though he had given
tacit support to the IRL because of its low-budget, grass-roots
philosophy that was akin to NASCAR's. Now, industry sources say,
France is "on the same page" with high-powered,
corporate-oriented CART, especially after ISC recently purchased
four tracks on which CART races are run annually. With 34 races
already crammed into NASCAR's Winston Cup schedule--14 of which
are run at France's facilities--he's looking for additional
events to increase his tracks' earning power. Open-wheel racing
could fill that bill at all of his venues except Daytona and
Talladega, where the sleek Indy cars would be too fast to race
But what France doesn't want is rival open-wheel organizations
splintering the fan base. He and Penske visited George two weeks
ago during Indy 500 practice. There was also a series of meetings
between George and CART CEO Andrew Craig.
"I don't think anything substantive was addressed," says George.
"As long as we have different philosophies, we're never going to
strike any kind of accord. Nothing came out of those
conversations that would lead me to believe that we're any
closer to sharing a philosophy."
"I'm not sure that's really what Tony is thinking," said Penske,
who described the meetings as "genuine" and "positive."
Others interpreted George's apparent intractability as posturing,
an effort to keep his house-of-cards IRL together. The league
has, at best, an estimated $50 million in annual sponsorship,
compared to CART's more than $400 million.
Nevertheless, the alliance is paying homage to George, who
inherited his power base--the Brickyard, racing's most hallowed
ground--from his grandfather, Tony Hulman. CART appears ready to
make huge concessions, including accepting the formation of one
sanctioning body ruled by a France-like czar and joining with its
auto industry backers and George to design a new, mutually
agreeable, version of the Indy car. Says Penske, "We'd be
prepared to put something on the table that would be rational,
easy to do--and everybody would win."
Dale Jr.'s Debut
FINISHING A SWEET 16TH
Moments before the drivers in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 were
introduced at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, Dale
Earnhardt looked over at his 24-year-old son, Dale Jr., who was
making his Winston Cup debut. The father could tell that, after
months of hype leading up to what promoters were calling E day,
the kid needed something to break the prerace tension. So the old
man, a seven-time Winston Cup champ, walked over, elbowed Dale
Jr. in the ribs and asked him if he wanted an autograph.
From then on, the younger Earnhardt was loose, though he
proceeded with caution once the race began. The defending Busch
Grand National champion who had qualified eighth (seven spots in
front of his dad) for the 600, Dale Jr. fell to 15th after just
two laps and was never a factor. (He even had trouble locating
his pit stall during the first yellow flag.) He suffered pangs of
self-doubt and a few lapses in concentration but, once he settled
in, raced his Chevy Monte Carlo well enough to move up four spots
between laps 220 and 300. He finished 16th, three laps behind
winner Jeff Burton, and gave himself a C for his debut. "At first
I was just trying to get out of everybody's way and not make a
fool of myself," Dale Jr. said. "Anytime you get a big promotion,
you want to show people you deserved it."
At times Dale Jr. had chafed under the expectations and hype
leading up to the 600. He was so relieved after qualifying at
midweek that he flopped down on a couch at his house near the
Earnhardt garage--the so-called Garage Mahal--in Mooresville, N.C.,
and hollered, "Man, thank god that's over!" The next few nights
he spent most of his time playing the video game Knockout King
with friends and then on Friday sat in on drums for one number
with the alternative rock band Bridge during a concert in
Charlotte. Earnhardt wrote the lyrics to the song Eyes to See on
Bridge's latest CD. "You can just tell Dale loves being onstage,"
says band member Terrill Hinson. "He likes the lights shining
right on him."
That's good, because it looks as if the hype may get even worse
between now and his next Winston Cup race. The blond-haired kid
is seen as one of the young drivers who can bridge the gap
between the sport's down-home roots and its corporate future.
Before the 600, Earnhardt was nearly mobbed by fans as he made
his way to the garage. Four hours and 600 miles later, he made a
beeline for his father's hauler. Big E had finished sixth and was
waiting for Little E.
"He told me I did a good job, that I stayed clean and I stayed
out of trouble," said Dale Jr. "So I guess you could say after
everything that went on, my debut got the ultimate stamp of
approval." --David Fleming
STEWART DOES INDY, CHARLOTTE
His face drained of color from dehydration and his legs too
exhausted for him to stand, Tony Stewart stretched out on the
black leather couch in the back of the Joe Gibbs Racing hauler
and laughed about the only thing missing from his 13-hour Indy
Car-Winston Cup driving adventure: a large pizza with everything.
On Sunday, Stewart, a 27-year-old NASCAR rookie and former IRL
points champion, became the first driver to complete the
Indianapolis 500, which started at 11 a.m. EDT, and the Coca-Cola
600, which began seven hours and 15 minutes later, on the same
day. (Five years ago John Andretti finished 10th in the 500 but
didn't complete the 600 because of engine failure.) Stewart
placed ninth at Indy and fourth at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Because he had eaten only two minibagels all day, Stewart was so
hungry around Lap 115 of the Coca-Cola 600 that he tried to drive
with one hand while stuffing a chocolate nutrition bar under his
helmet and into his mouth. He took two bites before chucking the
bar out the window and onto the infield grass out of frustration.
"It's great to know that I have left a little mark in the record
books for finishing both races," said Stewart, who is fifth in
the Winston Cup point standings and on track to become the first
rookie since 1980 to finish in the top 10. "We proved 1,100 miles
can be done, but you better have a good day at both tracks."
In the end Stewart's blistered hands had steered two cars for 596
laps and through 2,384 lefthand turns in less than 12 hours. Over
the past month he made seven round trips between Indianapolis and
Charlotte. It's a feat he isn't eager to repeat. "One time was
enough," said Stewart, yawning. "Right now I just want to go to
sleep--and I'm not sure when I'll wake up." --D.F.
CART Motorola 300
BITTERSWEET WIN FOR ANDRETTI
"Nice" was as strong a word as Michael Andretti could muster
after winning the Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway
near St. Louis last Saturday. The celebration on the podium with
his father, Mario, also "was nice," Michael said. But at the
bottom of his heart was the gnawing knowledge that "it could have
been Indy." Another Memorial Day weekend would pass in Michael's
life, a fourth consecutive Indianapolis 500 would be missed
because of CART's ongoing boycott of Indy. "Disappointing,"
Andretti said, with sadness in his voice. He's 36. He hasn't won
the race that means the most to his family. Time is running out.
Andretti owes his pit crew thanks for Saturday's victory. The
crew gambled by not changing tires on his final stop, with 46
laps left, enabling him to move from fifth to first. As he left
the pits that last time, Andretti, who switched from Goodyear
tires to Firestone this season, wondered if his worn tires would
make it. "But the tires were incredible," he said after holding
off the hard-charging Helio Castro-Neves.
The Family Business
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his first Winston Cup start on Sunday and
finished 16th in the Coca-Cola 600, 10 spots behind his dad. Not
only did Dale Jr.'s debut put the Earnhardts (Ralph and the two
Dales) alongside the Pettys (Lee and Richard, below, and Kyle) as
the only three-generation driving families in Winston Cup
history, but the Dales also became the sixth father-son combo to
race on the circuit together. Here's how the six stack up.
FATHER-SON COMBINED RACES COMBINED WINS
Lee and Richard Petty 1,606 255
Richard and Kyle Petty 1,720 208
Dale and Dale Earnhardt 619 72
Ralph and Dale Earnhardt 669 72
Ned and Dale Jarrett 717 69
Coo Coo and Sterling Marlin 611 6
Lead changes in Sunday's 191-mile Spanish Grand Prix, a Formula
One race in which Mika Hakkinen led for all but one lap. By
contrast, there were 23 lead changes in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600,
17 in the IRL's Indy 500 and 10 in CART's Motorola 300.