Barron wins first race in his 11th career start

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

GLADEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Alex Barron outran Gil de Ferran over the final two laps following a restart, winning the Firestone Indy 200 Saturday night at the Nashville Superspeedway by 0.42 seconds for his first IRL victory.

Barron, making his 11th Indy Racing League start, led only the final 11 laps to become the fourth first-time winner in the last five series races. His best finish had been fourth in the Indianapolis 500, where he earned co-rookie honors.

''I was actually calmer being in front than I was behind,'' said Barron, who had not won a race since picking up five victories and the Atlantic Series season title in 1997. ''Once we went green, the car handled beautifully, and we were flat out until the end. We showed some really good speed.''

For de Ferran, it was his fourth second-place finish of the season, and it moved him into the points lead by 10 ahead of Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Scott Sharp finished the race third, but he was penalized a lap for blocking Sam Hornish Jr. after the final restart. Sharp was 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.

Barron had led only once before this season for only seven laps at the Indy 500, and he had a chance there except the race finished under caution.

His trouble Saturday night came near the beginning of the race. A line in the airjacks failed, costing precious seconds for Blair Racing to change tires. They were forced into a second pit stop during green to add more fuel.

That dropped Barron, who had started fifth, to dead last in the field. But he moved through the field with an average speed of 199.318 mph.

Barron passed Sharp in Turn 3 on lap 189 by dipping inside. Jeff Ward ran into trouble on lap 195 and had to be towed off the track for the ninth and final caution, setting up a restart. Barron timed the restart well. De Ferran passed Sharp but couldn't catch up to Barron.

''You have to give it to Alex. I thought he really stood on it. That last lap, I thought he might take it easy in that first turn, but he kept it wide open through that white flag lap,'' de Ferran said.

The victory was especially rewarding for Barron's team, Blair Racing. Larry Blair switched from CART to IRL last December, and Barron had come close with four top-10 finishes this year.

''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.''

Hornish looked like he would run away with his fourth victory of the season as he led 95 laps until lap 171 and the sixth caution of the race.

Tomas Scheckter backed into the wall in Turn 2 after he got out of the groove trying to pass his teammate and car owner Cheever. The caution came on, and Hornish eased up on the throttle. George Mack, who was well off the lead, ran into the left rear of Hornish's Dallara Chevrolet and busted the tire and tore up part of the car.

Hornish's crew repaired most of the damage quickly but not fast enough to put him in position at the end. Hornish 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. I backed off, thought I'd get him on the next lap. The next lap, he moved around again,'' he said.

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