Archive for Thursday, November 23, 2000

Cheever could help Goodyear hit IRL heights

No. 2 and No. 3 drivers on circuit are about to become partners on track

November 23, 2000


Scott Goodyear has been on the edge of stardom for much of the last decade, hoping to make that one big pass that would take him the rest of the way.

He might do just that next year as part of what could become the Indy Racing League's superteam. Goodyear and owner-driver Eddie Cheever, second and third respectively in the IRL standings this year, are about to become partners on the track next season.

"Any time you have two drivers with a wealth of experience running toward the same goal on the same team, it's got to be an advantage," Goodyear said. "I've always loved testing and I've always been intrigued to see if things work or they don't."

With twice the driver input, it would seem that the team would have all the elements needed to carry one or the other to his first major racing title. Goodyear, a 40-year-old Canadian, and 42-year Cheever both champions in other forms of racing have combined to win seven times in the five-year-old IRL.

Cheever, the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion, offered Goodyear a ride when Panther Racing decided to replace him next year with Sam Hornish Jr.

"Scott is a phenomenal driver, and he has a great ability to stay out of trouble and be there at the end," Cheever said. "He's definitely the driver I want to have in the 52 car."

Cheever believes he and Goodyear will have their deal finalized by Christmas. He hopes that will give them plenty of time to prepare for the 2001 IRL season, which begins March 18 in Avondale, Ariz.

One of the values of having Goodyear aboard is that Cheever can concentrate more on managing the team without surrendering testing time.

"Because of his stature as a driver, Scott's input from testing should make a big difference," Cheever said. "He's at the point in his career where he does much more than just drive a race car."

Cheever and Goodyear know each other well from their days in CART before both moved to the IRL. And now they're going to be teammates of a sort as two of three IRL representatives against a field heavy with NASCAR drivers in the IROC all-star series.

The first of those four races will be run at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16. Goodyear wants badly to win, something open-wheel drivers rarely do in a series dominated by stock car racers on stock car tracks.

Cheever pulled off a major upset by winning one of the races this year, at Michigan Speedway.

"People are saying, 'Oh my, you're doing IROC," Goodyear said of the series he hopes will give him a higher profile in auto racing. "That has such a level of presence, running against people like Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon."

As much as Goodyear would like to win an IROC race, something else is closer to his heart.

"I've got some unfinished business," he said. "I haven't put my name on the Borg-Warner Trophy."

That piece of hardware goes to the winner of the Indianapolis 500, a race Goodyear has come close to claiming three times. Twice he has been second. In 1992, Al Unser Jr. beat him by .043 seconds in the closest Indy 500.

But the Memorial Day weekend classic he'll never forget was 1995, the last before CART gave way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's IRL as the sanctioning body. Goodyear led the race, but lost because he passed the pace car under caution in the waning laps.

He thought the pace car was going too slow and might have had a mechanical problem. Goodyear was afraid that if he slowed it would cause a massive pileup. He ignored a black flag, figuring he'd run the rest of the race and argue later. They stopped scoring him.

"We finished 500 miles before anyone," he said. "What I didn't know was the chief steward's decision was unprotestable."

Eddie Cheever:

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