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Archive for Monday, July 29, 2002

IRL: Scheckter cruises to Michigan Indy 400 win

July 29, 2002

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— On a day Tomas Scheckter should've been smiling, he wasn't.

The rookie won his first Indy Racing League race on Sunday in the inaugural Michigan Indy 400, but was still angry with team owner Eddie Cheever.

"I was pretty irritated with what happened to me this week," Scheckter said without being prompted to vent. "And I went out there with a vengeance.

"I pushed every lap. Normally I say, 'I'll push the last 20 laps and I'll just stay behind.' I did the opposite today. I said, 'I'm going to floor it from the beginning, I'm going to give no one any room and I'm going to do the best job I can from lap 1 to lap 200.' And it paid off."

Cheever, who owns Red Bull Cheever Racing and drives for the team, created waves this week by adding Buddy Rice as a third driver and giving him the crew that was working with Scheckter.

Scheckter entered having led 321 laps this year, but he hadn't won a race or finished better than fourth in part because he crashed in five races.

Cheever said he was trying to push the right buttons with Scheckter because of his potential.

"It worked," Cheever said with a sly grin after failing to draw eye contact with Scheckter during a news conference.

Scheckter, who had the pole and led for most of the day, overcame a stalled engine in his final pit stop, took the lead on lap 194 and pulled away from a pack late in the race.

Rice, who hadn't driven an IRL car before, finished 1.703 seconds behind Scheckter.

Felipe Giaffone finished third, followed by rookie Tony Renna, who took Al Unser Jr.'s place on the Kelley Racing team because Unser is seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

Three of the top four were rookies, and Scheckter became the fifth first-time IRL winner this year.

Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. finished fifth, sixth and seventh and maintained their 1-2-3 positions in the IRL standings.

There were nine leaders with Scheckter leading 24 cars for 122 laps and 25 lead changes in a race highlighted by a wild finish.

Fans rose to their feet as three-wide and nose-to-tail driving followed a restart on lap 174. There were six lead changes after the restart.

Scheckter, Rice and Cheever made IRL history Saturday with their 1-2-3 finish in qualifying.

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