The Callahan Report: Robbie Buhl Gets First Career IRL Win
18 August 1997LOUDON, NH: When the chips are down, the drivers in the Indy Racing League know how to put on a show. After a yawning opening, the Pennzoil 200 ended with a lead change and a side by side finish for the win. Team Menard driver Robbie Buhl out dueled rookie Vincenzo Sospiri for his first IRL victory.
The victory appeared to belong to owner/driver Eddie Cheever until lap 198 of the 200 lap event. In heavy traffic Buhl was glued to the rear wing of Cheever. The two cars came within inches of touching when Cheever slowed suddenly. Buhl darted to the outside as he was trying to hold off the closing Sospiri. Still in the traffic jam, the two cars went nose to tail for the final tow laps. Sospiri cut to the inside of Buhl exiting turn four on the last lap. Buhl finished ahead of the young Italian by less than 6 feet.
Buhl and everyone else at the track assumed Cheever had ran out of fuel. Cheever had stopped for fuel with 63 laps remaining in the race. The general consensus was these cars can only go 60 laps on a tank of fuel. Buhl remarked, "I guess he ran out of fuel. I just came up on top of him.....I was on the binders. I was very lucky I didn't hit him."
Buhl sat out a couple of races recently due to injuries he received in a practice crash. He said of the victory, "We needed this. I'm just glad John Menard held the seat for me." Menard, the team owner, fields two cars in the Indy Racing League.
Tony Stewart, the series points leader, is the other driver in the Menard stable. Stewart retained the points lead over A.J. Foyt Enterprises/Powerteam driver, Davey Hamilton. The two racers started the race in the middle of the field. Both suffered blown engines during today's competition. Stewart holds a ten point lead over Hamilton heading into the final race of the season at Las Vegas in October.
The second place finish by Sospiri marked the best of his young career. The rookie impressed many by qualifying on the front row for this year's Indianapolis 500, but has had a string of disappointing finishes since May.
The track had a buildup of "marbles" from a modified stock car race held earlier in the day. The treacherous conditions bit rookies and veterans alike. Robbie Groff spun as the field was ready to take the green at the start of the race. Groff was didn't hit anything and was able to continue. On the next restart, Jimmy Kite spun his Old Navy car in the same location and hit the wall.
The spin and crash list continued. Buddy Lazier, Sam Schmidt, and Affonso Giaffone all had trouble with the dirty track. Polesitter Marco Greco oiled his own tires exiting turn four. He lightly brushed the wall but all the tires stayed on the car. The engine was done for the day.
Driver Johnny Unser is getting plenty of seat time for a driver without a permanent ride in the series. Once again, Unser was called in to drive for the re-injured Mike Groff in the Bryant Heating and Cooling car. Groff suffered a broken leg in Texas. He returned to New Hampshire this weekend only to crash heavy on Friday. Groff is still in a local hospital, recovering from a concussion. Groff was unconscious for over 20 minutes after the crash. He is expected to be released within the next two days.
The League will stage the final race of the season at the two year old high speed oval in Las Vegas.