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Archive for Monday, July 22, 2002

Barron bags first IRL championship

July 22, 2002

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— A late caution flag cost Alex Barron a chance to challenge for victory at the Indianapolis 500. The same situation at the Firestone Indy 200 helped him get his first IRL victory.

After dropping to last place because of pit problems early in the race, Barron zoomed into the lead when a caution period ended 11 laps from the finish and stayed in front to win Saturday night at Nashville Superspeedway.

"This has been a big breakthrough for me," said Barron, who had bounced around trying to find a steady ride the past few years. "I always knew I could do it. This helps a lot, and I hope we can build on this for myself and the team."

The victory was Barron's first in 11th starts and also marked the fourth first-time winner in the last five races in the Indy Racing League.

Barron had not won any race since 1997, when he took five and won the Atlantic Series season title, and his best finish this year had been fourth in the Indy 500, where he earned co-rookie honors.

Now he has five top 10 finishes through Nashville. It couldn't be sweeter for Blair Racing, which owner Larry Blair moved over from CART to IRL in a decision made last December.

"This is a bit of a fairy tale, and it's a moment I've actually dreamed about for about two years now," Blair said. "To actually have it come true is pretty phenomenal, and it's one I'll cherish forever. It's special."

Barron held off Gil de Ferran by .42 seconds. It was the fourth runner-up finish this season for de Ferran, and moved him into a 10-point lead over Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. But the man who won the last two CART titles isn't taking anything for granted with five races left and Sam Hornish Jr. only 14 points back.

"We're always around each other," de Ferran said. "It's like a disease almost. It's terrible. I look in my mirror, 'Oh God, here he is again.' I look in front. 'Oh no.' I want to see a different car."

Scott Sharp finished third but was penalized a lap for blocking after the final restart and dropped to eighth.

That moved Hornish into third, followed by Richie Hearn, Raul Boesel, Eddie Cheever, Felipe Giaffone, Castroneves and Tony Renna. Eight of the 22 cars that started the race finished on the lead lap.

Hornish, who had led 95 laps until George Mack ran into the left rear of his Dallara Chevrolet on lap 171, said Sharp blocked him twice as he tried to pass in the final laps.

"I figured it was better to finish fourth than to crash the car, especially after everything else," Sharp said. "I backed off, thought I'd get him on the next lap. The next lap, he moved around again."

Barron, who has finished nine of 10 races this season, ran into trouble near the beginning of the race. A line in the airjacks failed, costing precious seconds for Blair Racing to change tires and forcing a second pit stop during green to add more fuel. That dropped Barron, who had started fifth, to last in the field.

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