Sharp overwhelms field for second straight Casino Magic 500

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

FORT WORTH, Texas -- This ending wasn't as close, but Scott Sharp's second straight Casino Magic 500 victory was just as exciting.

A year after winning in Texas by just .059 seconds, the closest finish in IRL history, Sharp won under caution Saturday night after a crash ended an exciting three-car duel for the lead.

Sharp escaped the crash on the 196th of 200 laps that knocked Greg Ray and Eddie Cheever out of the race.

''It was pretty close. I saw stuff start flying,'' Sharp said. ''I was lucky to be able to zip through it.''

Ray was in front when he was bumped as he tried to pass Robby McGehee's lapped car. That sent their cars into a spin which caught Cheever and also slammed his car into the wall. McGehee was taken to a hospital with a broken left leg.

''He drifted up and came back down. I had committed already to the bottom,'' Ray said. ''When he came down, it sent me spinning. It was just one of those racing things.''

Sharp was able to squeeze away and went on to his sixth career victory, breaking a tie with Ray for the most in the six-year-old series. His fifth victory was in Texas last year, when he beat McGehee by about a half of a car length.

This Casino Magic was set up for another close finish until the race-deciding crash.

''After Indianapolis, I'll take a win just about any way,'' Sharp said. ''It might have been more fulfilling to hold those guys off and win, but I'll take a win any way we can get it.''

After winning the pole for the Indianapolis 500 last month, he crashed in the first turn of the first lap.

Sharp won Saturday night with an average speed of 150.873 mph, 19 mph shower than his winning speed last June. He led for 33 laps, while Ray was in front for a race-high 86 and Cheever for 64.

There were six cautions for 42 laps. That is much different than last year, when there were 31 official lead changes but no yellow flags because of accidents.

After the fourth caution, for debris on the track on lap 157, Ray and Sharp were running 1-2.

Sharp took the lead when he beat Ray out of the pit, and the two were battling side-by-side, nose-to-tail for several laps as Cheever worked his way back into contention after earlier problems.

''We got so close. Out of the corner of my eye, I was seeing Greg's side pod and thought we would hit at any second,'' Sharp said.

Cheever, who dropped from the lead to 12th after a handling problem with his car midway through the race, worked his way back into third with about 35 laps left.

''I like the guy in the No. 2 car (Ray), and I like the guy in the No. 8 car (Sharp), but they can't drive like that,'' Cheever said. ''You can't be ducking and weaving and shoving people around. It's irresponsible lunacy.''

But after staying on the tail of Ray and Sharp for several laps, it was Cheever who made a daring move underneath the two on lap 174. He couldn't take over the lead, and was still third with a fifth caution came out, setting up the final 12 laps.

Cheever passed Ray on the restart at the beginning of lap 189. A lap later, as Cheever tried to work around the outside of Sharp, Ray dived to the inside for a three-wide pass and the lead.

''I thought I'd thrown it all away,'' Sharp said. ''I got busy looking in my mirrors watching Eddie. Then all of a sudden I saw this blue dart swoop underneath. I thought it was over with.''

It was then Ray-Sharp-Cheever until the ending crash.

Sam Hornish Jr. wound up second, followed by rookie Felipe Giaffone and defending IRL champ Buddy Lazier. Ray and Cheever finished 11-12.

Giaffone filed a protest against the results, claiming Hornish passed him during the final caution. Billy Boat, the sixth-place finisher, claimed Donnie Beechler did the same. IRL officials said they wouldn't finalize the results until Monday.

Cheever dominated the first half of the race until he suddenly dropped into the pit at the end of lap 101, after feeling a vibration in the left rear of his car.

That ended a 13-lap side-by-side and nose-to-tail duel with Ray during which Cheever couldn't retake the lead. Cheever went high and low, but never got around Ray.

The only thing that slowed Cheever down before that were two caution flags, the second on lap 73 when Jeret Schroeder blew his engine going into turn 2 and spun into Davey Hamilton.

Both Schroeder and Hamilton slammed into the wall. Schroeder lost all four tires, one of which did heavy damage to the front end of Sarah Fisher's car. Hamilton was taken to a hospital with what IRL officials said were broken bones in his lower extremities.

Like McGehee, Hamilton was alert and awake when taken to the hospital.

Before that crash, Cheever had built a nearly six-second lead over Ray after running about 20 laps in excess of 216 mph, including one at 217.373.

Early on, Cheever took over the lead from polesitter Mark Dismore on the third lap. Cheever led by 3 1/2 seconds over Sharp when a caution came on lap 25 because of debris on the track.

After restarting sixth, Cheever needed just five laps to take over the lead, first going three-wide under Hornish and Jaques Lazier for second and then overtaking Airton Dare.

The race came six weeks after CART's race-day cancellation because of concerns of driver safety. Most CART drivers became dizzy or disoriented during practice when they were going up to 236 mph in their turbocharged cars.

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