Rookies become part of tradition

Kanaan, Scheckter, Barron make strong bids

hot time in Gordon's pit

Indy 500 notebook

May 27, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Before yesterday's Indianapolis 500, veterans like Eddie Cheever and A.J. Foyt were talking about how competitive this race would be. By the time it was over, car owner Roger Penske had joined them.

"Last year, there were three or four key people in the race," said Penske, whose driver Helio Castroneves was given the checkered flag at the end of the race. "This race, there was no question it was the fastest in history, and there is no question that this race always seems to eliminate key people in the first 100 laps or so."

That's the tradition of it. That's what has made the past so memorable. Yesterday, it made the present memorable, too. Not only did the racetrack have its impact, but so, too, did a contingent of rookies.

When Tony Kanaan took the lead from Tomas Scheckter on lap 64, it marked the first time since 1966, when Graham Hill passed Jackie Stewart and went on to win the race, that rookies had exchanged the lead.

And Kanaan and Scheckter could very well have won. Only an oil spill from the back of pole-sitter Bruno Junqueira's car that sent Kanaan into the wall was able to end his early domination.

Only a mechanical problem that affected Scheckter's ability to turn the car and sent him hard into the fourth turn wall kept the first South African to compete in the race from battling for the win. As it was, Scheckter led 85 laps, the most of any driver.

And rookie Alex Barron, who finished fourth, was perfectly positioned to win before Scheckter's crash brought out a caution with 27 laps to go.

"I don't know if Alex knows how close he came to winning this race," said Tom Gloy, president of Rayovac Blair Racing. "Until that caution flag, we were the only team capable of going the distance without another pit stop."

Each driver chalked the incidents up to the old saying, "That's racing," which prompted three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, who was doing radio commentary to say, "If we could find the first guy who said "That's racing,' we'd probably all go beat him up."

A fiery day

Driver Robby Gordon, the Winston Cup driver who pulled double duty yesterday by racing here in the afternoon before heading to Charlotte, N.C., for the Coca Cola 600 last night, overcame a small fuel explosion and fire in his pits to finish eighth.

"My team did a great job overcoming the pit adversity," said Gordon, who was fifth before the pit incident. "They kept their heads straight. I didn't know what the deal was going to be there, but we didn't lose too much."

Injuries

Driver Laurent Redon was taken to Methodist Hospital and held overnight due to a concussion he received in an accident with Buddy Lazier. ... Charles Winkle, the left rear tire changer for Rick Treadway, was also taken to the hospital for evaluation of his right ankle.

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