Sharp wins monster finish Lazier edged by .689 in IRL's Dover debut

July 20, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DOVER, Del. -- The monster mile at Dover International Raceway turned the Indy Racing League's Pep Boys 400K into a survival of the fittest. But that didn't seem to bother the crowd of about 25,000, which stuck around and came roaring to its feet when Scott Sharp beat Buddy Lazier to the finish line by .689 of a second.

And it didn't seem to bother track president Denis McGlynn or IRL executive director Leo Mehl either, as both proclaimed the first-time event a success.

"My concern is not about cars, but drivers," Mehl said. "And other than Eliseo [Salazar, who suffered a broken leg, hip, pelvis and arm during Saturday's practice], everyone is in good shape after this race.

"Our race is different from watching stock cars. We're about speed and daring, not about watching 30 cars finish on the lead lap."

It's a good perspective for the IRL, given that 22 cars started the race and of the 10 running at the end, only Sharp and Lazier were on the lead lap.

Third-place finisher Marco Greco was two laps down, and 10th-place finisher Kenny Brack was 51 behind.

Seven caution flags collected nine different cars and slowed the race for 99 laps.

"The whole idea of coming here is that this track is totally different from the other tracks," said Sharp, who earned his third career win and second of the season. "It's definitely a challenge. It's a tough place that creates a lot of attrition. But a bunch of us were still running at the end, and it shows how sturdy our cars are that we didn't have any serious injuries."

Indy cars hadn't raced at Dover since 1969. Although Dover has the same 24-degree banking that Michigan International Speedway has, the Michigan track is two miles long, lengthening the distance between turns. Dover did make several modifications, including widening the track apron to make getting in and out of pit road safer.

The track, which was made 60 percent smoother than it had been when these cars tested here in late spring, was still bumpy enough to shake loose the dashboard of pole-sitter Tony Stewart and deposit it on his lap, was rough enough to make Lazier's teeth hurt and rough enough for Sharp to find his hands sore after 40 laps.

Despite the seven cautions, only two stemmed from incidents that resulted in injury. Rookie drivers Bobby Unser (minor fracture of the left foot) and Steve Knapp (mild concussion) were treated and released from Kent General Hospital.

Stewart, who dominated the first 80 laps, began having troubles after the restart on Lap 86. That's when Sharp blew past him into the second turn and stretched out to a comfortable lead.

Stewart was being bothered by his dashboard, and later the left rear suspension broke, requiring an extended stay in the pits. He finished eighth, 28 laps down.

While Stewart was having his troubles, Sharp was enjoying the ride. Sort of.

After 40 laps, he said, his hands were tired from trying to grip the steering wheel on the bumpy oval, but his car was strong.

"It wasn't a chassis adjustment that allowed me to take the lead," he said, after averaging 99.318 mph. "It was the Goodyear tires, pure and simple. They were great. They didn't need any laps to warm up. They were ready to roll at the drop of the flag for the restarts, and that's why I was able to take the lead."

Perhaps Lazier's performance was the most inspiring of the afternoon, however. The second-place finisher won the 1996 Indianapolis 500, despite racing with a broken back. He has been undergoing operations ever since to fix it. Yesterday, after making his way to a chair in the press box for a post-race interview, he looked worn.

"This place is tough on you," said Lazier, who will have still another operation at the end of the year. "There is nothing like the Indy 500, because it is so intense. But this place builds real fatigue. Some guys have fresh backs, but I'm hurting bad. But I know our sponsors brought people here and had a great time and the fans were great and I think they definitely enjoyed this type of racing today."

McGlynn said that he expects the event to be even better next year but perhaps a little shorter.

"I think we gave the fans everything they wanted today. At least, that's what they were saying to us as they were leaving," McGlynn said. "It's not unreminiscent of the early days of stock cars. The attendance is what we expected. Next year, we'll do whatever it takes to make it better and make sure it sticks. If that means making it a 200-lap event, that's what we'll do."

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