The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 17, 1998 · Page 36
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 36

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Sunday, May 17, 1998
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SUNDAY, MAY 17, 1998 SPORTS THE SALINA JOURNAL'i Break from tradition 'Reduced Indy 500 schedule has changed preparations for teams 'fcy MIKE HARRIS The Associated Press I NDIANAPOLIS — Condensing practice and qualifying into one week has messed with tradition and made preparations for the Indianapolis 500 more difficult for teams and dri- .vers. '' For the first time since 1952, the 33 starters for the world's richest and most prestigious auto race will have just two days to qualify. Beyond that, they're getting ready for the four-lap, 10- mile qualifying runs with just six days of practice. The decision by Tony George, ^president of the Indianapolis Mo- 'tor Speedway, chopped a week — 'including one full weekend of .time trials — off the schedule. •' The last time the schedule was shortened was in 1973, when ..George's late grandfather, Tony Hulman, cut the opening week of practice off what was a full month of activity. That decision was prompted by a national gasoline crisis. This time, George says it was a business consideration. The race still draws a crowd of more than 400,000, but daily ''practice crowds and those for qualifying have dwindled in recent years, particularly since the fledgling Indy Racing League began running at the speedway in '1996 in place of the established CART organization. "There's always a right time and a wrong time to implement change," George explained. "There were a lot of people (on the teams) who felt a part of the month of May was a strain financially and a waste of time being . here. '' "Certainly, some of the crowds had diminished over the last 10 years or so on certain days. 'What we're trying to do is create more intensity." He has accomplished that. Practice for the May 24 race began last Sunday. With qualifying Saturday and today, activity on the 2y2-mile oval has been nearly constant, with 5,000 total The Associated Press Driver Tony Stewart (center), talks with part of his crew during a break in a recent practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. laps in the book after a seven- hour practice Thursday. "I would love it to go back the other direction," said Larry Curry, manager for Team Menard, which fields cars for two of the race favorites, Tony Stewart and Robbie Buhl. "When I leave here, I'm used up," Curry said. "This is really intense. If we're not running a car in qualifying trim, we're running a race setup. You're flat out from the time they open the place." Curry said the teams were somewhat spoiled by the two weeks of practice and qualifying prior to this year. "It was great," he said. "You'd go out after the track opened at 11 (a.m.), then you'd go back to the garage and work on it and go back out again about 3 (p.m.). Then you'd make a couple more adjustments and maybe go out again once more before the track closed at 6. "You'd kind of cruise through the day. Now, it's totally different. It's hard on everybody." For sure it's hard on drivers like Johnny O'Connell. He's walking around the garage area this week trying to find a ride. "In the past, after the first weekend of qualifying, teams would have the luxury of looking at who's available and making a decision," he said. "Is it worth it pulling out a backup and putting another guy in the show? Is it financially feasible to do that? Does it make a lot of sense? "The beauty of it was, OK, you get your guys in the show and you've got a couple of spare cars, you've got a whole week to work with the guy and get him comfortable. That's pretty darn important around this place, because you don't want to just stick a guy in a car and tell him to go for it." O'Connell says the other problem for the teams is getting their cars ready for both qualifying and racing in the same week. "The biggest problem I see is that these teams that are strong and competitive, and have cars available, do not have the advantage of using that second week themselves for running full tanks and doing more race testing than just speed testing. My guess is that some of these teams will use Sunday as an opportunity to achieve those goals, to run out in the open practice when there's nobody in the qualifying line." Not everybody is worried about the shortened Indy schedule, though. Stewart, the 1996 Indy pole- winner and the defending IRL champion, gets bored by the long days of practice and car preparation. "If it were up to me, it would be a two-day event," the 26-year- old racer said. "We'd practice and qualify on Saturday, race on Sunday and then go back to our regular lives." But he has no choice. "We have two weeks work we have to condense into one," he said. "That means we have to make sure we don't get too focused on one thing." Arie Luyendyk, the two-time and defending Indy 500 champion, is pragmatic about the change. "It's here and you have to deal with it," Luyendyk said. "The teams that would be ready the first weekend (of qualifying) will be ready anyway. The teams that messed around the first week and waited for the second weekend could be in trouble. "We're going to see this weekend who can get the job done." Foyt's drivers head Indy 500 qualifying Four-time race winner enjoys big day as Boat earns pole Brack also on front row By MIKE HARRIS The Associated Press ! ; INDIANAPOLIS — Crowd favorite A.J. Foyt drove his old roadster around the Indi- "anapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday for fun. Then Billy Boat gave Foyt an even bigger thrill, taking the Indianapolis 500 pole at a speed almost 100 mph faster than his boss. Foyt, a four-time winner of the world's richest and r most prestigious auto race and now a full-time car '6wner, got two of the three front row spots on opening flay of qualifying for the May 24 race. His other driver, Sweden's Kenny Brack, wound up on the outside of the front row. ' "It's nice to be the fastest, but all we really , wanted to do was get in the race and worry ; 'about winning the race," a businesslike Foyt •'said. "Starting from the pole is great, but I don't think I ever won it from the pole." Tony Stewart, the defending Indy Racing League champion, topped the speed charts on four of the six days of practice leading to the first of just two days of time trials. His fast lap, 223.797, came Friday. But it was Boat, seventh last year as an Indy rookie, who turned up the heat in practice ' Saturday morning with a lap of 223.836 — the 1 'fastest since the track opened May 10. ' The 32-year-old midget car racing star topped that when it counted, starting his four-lap, 10-mile qualifying run with a lap of 224.573 and following it up with laps of 223.725,223.625 and 222.102. His overall speed was 223.503. "It feels good to get that done," Boat said. "Now we can concentrate on getting ready for the race, and I know how bad A.J. wants that first Indy win as an owner. "The wind was bad in turn one, and really caught the car on the first couple laps. I knew I had a good lap running, so I kind of eased it into turn one on that last lap. I just wanted to make sure I could bring it home." The pole, the second of Boat's IRL career, was worth more than $150,000 in cash and prizes, including a $100,000 check from PPG. The fiery Foyt slapped Boat on the back and hugged him after the driver emerged from his Dallara-Aurora. "He just told me, 'Thank you,'" said Boat, who bounced back from a crash on Friday in his backup car. "Billy did such a great ride in the middle of the day, as hot as it is," said the 63-year-old Foyt, whose run in the roadster he drove to his first victory here in 1961 was at about 124 mph. "We knew we could run fast all week. Then we had that little accident, and for him to come back and do what he did today with the heat.... "Turn one is actually really bad with the wind. Probably if we had waited until later this evening, it's very possible we could have run a little faster. But the way I look at the Indy 500, it's 500 miles, get in the race and worry about winning the race." Foyt joked about his own exhibition run. "That's about 100 mile-an-hour too fast for A.J.," he said. Stewart was the first of the fastest drivers to qualify on the 2 V4 -mile oval. His 220.386 was very disappointing for both the 26-year- old IRL star and his elite Team Menard. "We gambled today," a downcast Stewart said. "With what Foyt's guys were doing, we really had to pull something out of the bag. I told (team manager) Larry Curry I'd rather gamble than be conservative. "Last year, we got a little conservative and ended up second to Arie (Luyendyk). This year, I thought, well, I'm either going to be quick or I'm going to crash, die trying. So I got the car a little bit too loose where I had to get out of the gas a couple times." Brack didn't let Stewart keep the top spot long, qualifying at 220.982. He gave most of the credit to Foyt. " A. J.'s been here 40 years, and he probably knows everything there is to know about this place," Brack said. "He gives you good tips. He knows what he wants and he's got super quick cars." Sixth Unser qualifies for Indy 500 The most successful family in Indy-car racing put yet another member into the most famous race in the world. Robby Unser, a curly-haired lookalike and 30-year-old son of three-time winner Bobby Unser, qualified Saturday for his rookie start in the Indianapolis 500. He will be the sixth Unser to race at Indy. "I'm very happy and very honored. It feels very good," the younger Unser said after a four-lap qualification run at an average 216.534 mph. "I said all week it was a good car. It hasn't been the fastest, but it's been one of the most consistent cars on the track." Including Robby, at least one Unser will have driven at Indianapolis in 35 of the past 36 years. TGOLF **: T NASCAR: THE WINSTON The Associated Pters's". Fred Couples blasts his shot from a sand trap on the seventh hote • during the third round of the Byron Nelson Classic Saturday. '•* 0 'iV''l. Couples surges to Byron Nelson By JOE MACENKA The Associated Press CONCORD, N.C. — Mark Martin made his first victory in stock car rating's annual all-star event a stynning one, winning The Win- stfln on Saturday night when Jeff Gordon ran out of gas on the final Ian. ^Gordon appeared to be the class o£the field in the 70-lap event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he was leading by about 10 car-lengths and was pulling away when he slpwed going into the first turn on thj last lap. Martin, headed for what ap- pefired to be an outclassed second- place finish, zipped past Gordon Wfiile a shocked crowd of 160,000 stSod and screamed. *They had it won. We lucked otft," said Martin, who won $257,500. "I don't think that we would have ever caught them, but that doesn't matter." Gordon, bidding for his third victory in The Winston in four years, appeared to make a winning move in the pits between the second and third segments. But minutes later, he contributed to his own demise. Gordon and the rest of the contenders were overpowered by Martin in the second segment, so five of them took on just two tires. Martin took on four, and the extra time meant he wound up near the back of the field for the restart. Gordon, lined up first for the restart, appeared to get an excellent jump on the field to start the last segment, but NASCAR officials ruled that he had accelerated too soon, and they ordered another restart. As it turned out, the extra laps needed to reset the field and line up for a second restart ended up using up too much fuel for Gordon. He was the only driver who ran out of gas, and he didn't even try to make it back to take the checkered flag. He simply guided his silent, slow-coasting car into the garage area, parked it and walked to his team's trailer. "It's pretty embarrassing," he said. "At the white flag we started sputtering, and there was nothing I could do. Everyone did a great job. We just ran out of gas." The drivers who weren't around for the end included Dale Earnhardt, whose night ended in a hospital emergency room for precautionary X-rays, and Terry Labonte, whose night ended in flames. Earnhardt had the misfortune of being wrecked by a car he owns. Darrell Waltrip, substituting for Closing 29 on back nine fuels Masters runnerup to two-stroke advantage By The Associated Press IRVING, Texas — Fred Couples looked like he was over his Masters hangover, closing the back nine at the steamy GTE Byron Nelson Classic with a 29 on Saturday to take the third-round lead by two strokes at 14-under-par 196. Couples, who finished second to Mark O'Meara by one stroke at Augusta National last month despite a double bogey on the 13th hole, sprinted from the pack with an eagle on No. 16 and a birdie on the next hole to close with a 63. Harrison Frazar, who had a tap- in birdie on the final hole for a 66, was two strokes behind at 198 and Hal Sutton shot a 68 to be at 199. John Cook was at 200. Defending champion Tiger Woods was sloppy with every phase of his game and shot a 69 to be nine strokes behind at 205. "It was ugly," Woods said after he missed fairways and missed even more putts. "I didn't play very well. My pace was off on my putting." Couples, Frazar and Sutton had no such problems. Playing in the same threesome, they fed off the energy and good play of each other. "I just kind of got caught in a whirlwind out there," Sutton said after making four birdies and two bogeys. "All three of us just played great." That was not the way the day started for Couples. He made bogeys on two of the first four holes and was lucky to make a bogey on No. 4 when trees stopped his ball from going into the water. "It started out like I was going to shoot 78," Couples said. "Then the rest of the day was nothing but birdies." He played the final 14 holes nine under par, making virtually every makeable birdie putt he had. "It wasn't a great round," Couples said. "But when I hit a good shot I made the putt." The longest of those putts was a 40-footer for birdie on No. 17. On the previous hole he hit a 3-iron from 215 yards to 15 feet and made the eagle putt. LPGA ROCKLAND, Del. — Se Ri Pak did not play particularly well Saturday, yet still managed to remain Martin prevails as Gordon runs out of gas atop the leaderboard in the Championship. , -,,...Now, however, the 20-year-olji., South Korean rookie no longer,is alone in first place. And suddenly,,., there are nearly a dozen players with a genuine chance to w,alk, ;j away with the $195,000 winner's''.! check Sunday. ; q ~, .^ Pak shot a 1-over-par 72 for arfji-^. under 205 total and a first-placeHje,, with Lisa Hackney after three rounds of the major tournamentf.^ Hackney made four birdies qv^r'7- the final eight holes in a scran^H bling 69 that put her in position $pr, t her first tour win. Defending champion Chris^ Johnson, who started the day^in ' ninth place, shot a 67 to finish in^, t group of four at six under. L'j^a", Walters, who began the round' t( La, w second place, shot a 73 and wra's among four players at 208. On a sweltering afternoon,.'.in,'., which temperatures hovered^ around 90 degrees, Pak missed s^- m eral short birdie putts during hei^ worst showing of the week. ^h,e was alone in first place enter^g-i the round shooting a 65 and 68, fyit managed only one birdie in ijfir,j third trip over the DuPont try Club course. Pak started the day with a stroke lead. She missed a 15-fQpJ:^ par putt on the first hole, the f;rst of two bogeys in a round that fe^-,,, turedlSpars. L .... >j "Today my putting was a prob-' J lem," she said. :lJ .„ ' i' ^" Seniors ; BELTON, Mo. — Larry Ziegjer.^ had his tee shot on No. 18 botuice!» out of a creek and finished with -a" 3-under-par 67 Saturday to take a two-shot lead over defending champion Bruce Summerhays in the Saint Luke's Classic. Senior PGA Tour rookie Fred Gibson, who tamed gusty, swirling' winds on Friday for a 65, bogeyed Nos. 14,15 and 16 and skied to qij$ in Saturday's perfect conditions.." .. Summerhays, twice saving p"ar™ with tough putts on the back side,shot a scrambling 70 and had;; a 1 " 1 two-day total of 138. ',, '-"-«- * Boys Baikctbttl * Girls Baik«tball American-Made, American-Owned" By MTD Since 1981 the injured Steve Park in a Dale Earnhardt Inc.-owned Chevrolet, was entering the first turn on the ninth lap when the car began spewing fluid, the result of a blown engine. Running immediately behind Waltrip were Earnhardt and John Andretti, who both hit the fluid and went careening wildly into the concrete retaining wall at the top of the 24-degree banking. Andretti wasn't injured, but rescue crews rolled a stretcher to the side of Earnhardt's crumpled car. He told them to get rid of the stretcher, but he was clearly in pain as he climbed out and walked to the ambulance, slumped over and clutching his ribs. Earnhardt was transported to nearby University Hospital for X- rays of his ribs. The X-rays were negative. Model 2135 2599 • 13 HP Kohler Command OHV Engine 1 Full-Length Steel Frame Shaft-Driven Hydrostatic Transmission with Cruise Control ] 1 Standard 38" High-Vacuum, Quick Attach Deck with Mulch Baffle 1500 S.Broadway 1-800-WIL-RENT 827-0847 Store Hours Daily 7:30 AM-6:00 PM Sunday 12:30-5:30 RENEINC,

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