HAMPTON, GA. Greg Ray had his mind on another track after a dominating night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"Let's go to Indianapolis," Ray said after cruising to victory Saturday in the Indy Racing League's zMax 500.
Ray led 184 of 200 laps and denied Sam Hornish Jr.'s bid for a record-tying third straight IRL victory leading into the biggest race of the year, the Indy 500.
Practice at the Brickyard begins next weekend.
"We've got a lot of momentum going into Indy and the month of May," Ray said. "That's a big reward for this team."
He slowed more than 20 mph in the final laps to conserve fuel and barely had enough to get back around to Victory Lane. Still, his Dallara Oldsmobile beat Scott Sharp across the line by an overwhelming 19.857 seconds.
"My job is to drive the race car, not be a mathematician or statistician," Ray said. "But it was a big concern. They kept telling me to lift, lift, lift (off the accelerator). It's very, very tough mentally when you don't know for sure how much fuel is in the car."
Ray earned his fifth IRL victory, equaling Sharp for the career lead in the 6-year-old series, and won for the second year in a row on the 1.54-mile quad-oval.
The 34-year-old Texan has led 366 of 408 laps at Atlanta over the last two years.
"On the bio, they talk about your favorite tracks," Ray said. "Certainly, I don't think there can be a favorite track for me other than Atlanta.
"We've had two absolute fairy-tale race weekends. Very rarely does a race car driver and a race team have a weekend so flawless. To have two in row is pretty nice."
The 21-year-old Hornish began his first season at Panther Racing with victories in Phoenix and Homestead, Fla. That put him in position to tie Kenny Brack's 1998 record of three consecutive victories, but Hornish simply didn't have enough power to keep up with Ray.
No one else did, either. Sharp and third-place finisher Buzz Calkins had the only other cars on the lead lap. Hornish dropped back to fourth, a lap down, after coming in for a late splash of fuel.
"We're excited about our strong finishes," Hornish said. "We just didn't have enough fuel at the end. Overall, it was a good run for our team. We're real excited going to Indy. I'll trade a win here for a win there."
The most spectacular moment for the estimated 40,000 fans came on the 53rd lap, when a fiery crash took out 11 drivers, including Al Unser Jr. and Sarah Fisher.
Jack Miller's car burst into flames and hurtled through the air. Casey Mears also got airborne, while Robbie Buhl's car caught fire when he slammed into the wall.
Amazingly, Miller was the only driver with more than bumps and bruises. Awake and alert when removed from the battered shell of his car, he was taken by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center for treatment of a concussion.
Race officials decided not to bring out the red flag, even though debris was scattered all over the track. The yellow was out for 35 laps, slowing the average winning speed to 133.647 mph.
1. (1) Greg Ray, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $124,100.
2. (13) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $95,600.
3. (8) Buzz Calkins, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 200, $68,600.
4. (6) Sam Hornish Jr., Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $55,350.
5. (7) Eliseo Salazar, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $50,700.
6. (9) Buddy Lazier, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 199, $45,550.
7. (2) Jeff Ward, G Force-Oldsmobile, 199, $46,450.
8. (5) Shigeaki Hattori, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 198, $43,350.
9. (11) Airton Dare, G Force-Oldsmobile, 197, $43,100.
10. (15) Felipe Giaffone, G Force-Oldsmobile, 182, $42,000.
11. (18) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 178, $40,900.
12. (16) Stan Wattles, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 147, $17,800.
13. (20) Didier Andre, G Force-Oldsmobile, clutch, 139, $38,800.
14. (17) Billy Boat, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 109, $37,600.
15. (21) Stephan Gregoire, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 95, $14,600.
16. (25) Jon Herb, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 77, engine, $13,500.
17. (14) Al Unser Jr., G Force-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $34,300.
18. (12) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $34,300.
19. (22) Jeret Schroeder, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $11,300.
20. (19) Robbie Buhl, G Force-Infiniti, 52, accident, $37,200.
21. (10) Robby McGehee, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 52, accident, $32,200.
22. (24) Cory Witherill, G Force-Oldsmobile, 51, accident, $10,200.
23. (27) Casey Mears, G Force-Oldsmobile, 51, accident, $32,200.
24. (3) Eddie Cheever Jr., Dallara-Infiniti, 34, engine, $32,200.
25. (23) Jack Miller, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 28, accident, $10,200.
26. (4) Mark Dismore, Dallara-Oldsmobile, 15, engine, $32,200.
27. (26) Brandon Erwin, G Force-Oldsmobile, 3, accident, $32,200.
Winner's average speed: 133.647 mph.
Time of race: 2:14:40.9890.
Margin of victory: 19.8570 sec.
Cautions: 4 for 55 laps.
Lead changes: 7 among 4 drivers.
Lap leaders: Ward 1-2, Ray 3-47, Hornish 48, Ray 49-82, Ward 83-90, Ray 91-146, Sharp 147-151, Ray 152-200.
Point Standings (after 3 of 13 races): Hornish 136, Salazar 105, Sharp 96, Ward 82, Giaffone 80, Lazier 73, Fisher 72, Calkins 71, Ray 69, Boat 63.