25 June 2000
Infinite joy for Cheever.
By this stage Buhl had built up a six second lead and looked to be cruising comfortably when, coming onto the start/finish straight to complete his 60th lap, the Infiniti grenaded itself, coating the track with oil. The pace car was quickly dispatched but Buhl could hardly believe his luck. His team sat dumbstruck on the pit-wall as Buhl parked the Purex backed G Force on the entrance to turn one.
The yellow brought about the second caution of the day which coincided with the first round of fuel stops. Sharp's crew got him out cleanly and he now took up the lead although for Ray the pit-stops were a disaster. As the Team Menard driver left his pit he met with Davey Hamilton who was pitting two stalls in-front of him. Ray's nosecone tapped Hamilton's left rear tyre as the Team Xtreme driver pulled into his pit. This dislodged Ray's nose while Hamilton was able to continue unscathed once he had been pointed in the right direction.
Ray was forced to pit again for a new nose on the next lap and eventually rejoined the queue in eleventh place while Cheever now assumed second place where Ray should have been. Beechler's inexperienced crew couldn't turn their steed around in the same time as Cheever's could which meant Donnie found himself in third ahead of Al Unser Jr who had steadily worked his way into contention from 18th on the grid. Dismore was back into fifth after a superb stop by his Kelley crew and he was followed by Salazar, Schroeder, Dare, Calkins, Stephane Gregoire and Ray. Such was Buhl's early pace that only eleven cars remained on the lead lap, Jeff Ward and Scott Goodyear leading those who were a lap adrift.
Sharp quickly pulled away from Cheever on the lap 70 re-start and built up a five second cushion over Cheever. Unser Jr was now putting the pressure on Beechler but the young Illinois native refused to budge and held on to his place for several hectic laps. It took the unintentional help from Al's cousin Robby, who was struggling with the only Riley & Scott chassis in the field, before Beechler gave up his position. Coming on to the back straight for the 79th time, Beechler was taken by surprise by the slow pace of Unser, R and was immediately overhauled on the inside by Unser, A.
Before 'Little Al' had the chance to close on Cheever, the pace car did it for him. Coming out of turn two Shigeaki Hattori lost control of his Treadway-Vertex G Force and spun wildly along the back straight, changing direction as Hattori fought to keep the machine off the wall. Cars scattered everywhere and although Schroeder and Jaques Lazier were forced onto the grass, nobody made contact with the EPSON backed machine.
The inclusion of the pace car into proceedings negated Sharp's hard won advantage and once the green flag was waved once again, the winningest driver in IRL history found his car to be slightly loose, making the handling unresponsive. As a result Cheever was able to stay with the leader and as the race approached the half-way mark, Sharp and Cheever were tied together.
For Ray though, his miserable 2000 season was about to run true to form, and after a spirited drive back into the top six, he finally came unstuck as he attempted to pass Dismore for fifth. The Dallara caught a bad draft in the middle of turn three and Ray was helpless to stop the car sliding into the outside wall on the exit of the fourth corner.
After another brief interlude by the pace car, Sharp led the rest of the field away with 96 laps to go. Once again Cheever found the improved torque of his Infiniti engine to be a great advantage as the race wore on and he continued to hassle the leader. Some three seconds behind the lead battle, Beechler summed up the energy to have another go at Unser, making the decisive move on lap 110 and quickly pulling away. Unser now came under pressure from Dare who had earlier disposed of Salazar, Dismore and Schroeder.
The top five drivers circulated in close formation for several laps until on lap 134 Cheever went high along the front stretch to take the lead for the first time. Just two laps later Beechler dived to the inside along the back straight to take second and was soon closing on the new leader.
With just 60 laps to go and the final round of pit-stops looming large, the top three had pulled out a 7.5 second lead over fourth placed Dare who had finally muscled past Unser Jr. Salazar was now right behind Unser Jr in sixth. The situation changed on lap 141 when the Chilean pitted for fuel and tyres, dropping to 14th in the process.
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