IRL: Menard, Foyt Mend Fences in Shadow of Pikes Peak
15 August 1998FOUNTAIN, Colo., Aug. 15, 1998 -- It lasted seven weeks longer than the Seven Days War. But a peace flag followed the green and checkered flags at Pikes Peak International Raceway on Saturday.
It wasn't a flag that could be seen like those displayed from the starter's stand during qualifying for Sunday's Pep Boys Indy Racing League Radisson 200. Instead, it was just a bull session in the pits after A.J. Foyt's driver Billy Boat captured the pole and John Menard's driver Tony Stewart placed third.
Their second drivers - Kenny Brack and Robbie Buhl -- wound up side by side on the third row. The feud between Menard and Foyt erupted after the New England 200 on June 28 at Loudon, N.H., when Menard accused Foyt of cheating and said he was not bringing Buhl to the next two races as a way of protesting. Menard didn't bring himself either.
Saturday, the battle of egos between the two best-known car owners in the series came to a halt without either waving a white flag.
After Boat captured the pole, Menard laughed and exclaimed, "It SURE IS!" when asked if it was frustrating getting beat by two people on crutches.
Boat is driving with a broken left leg, while Foyt is hobbling after undergoing minor surgery on his right knee.
"Yeah, I think it's pretty well behind us," Menard said about the fuss.
Minutes later hardware store magnate Menard and Foyt, leaning on crutches, were standing face-to-face exchanging light banter along with Pep Boys IRL Executive Director Leo Mehl and Tom Kelley, who owns the cars of fourth-place qualifier Mark Dismore and league points leader Scott Sharp, who qualified eighth.
There were no signs of animosity as cameras clicked around them.
Foyt later was asked about the fierce rivalry between Menard and him. Despite his crutches, four-time Indy 500 champion Foyt neatly sidestepped the question.
"You've got Kelley and few more out there," he said. "That's what I'm talking about. (The IRL) gives a lot of little guys a chance to come up. If it hadn't been that way when I come up you never would have heard of A.J. Foyt."
Last year at this race, Scott Sharp, then driving for Foyt, captured the pole at PPIR by 1 mph. But Stewart who won the race, providing an emotional Victory Lane as Menard celebrated his first win after 17 years of trying. It also was Stewart's first Indy-style victory.
"This race is very important to us from the standpoint of looking forward to possibly winning two times in a row," Menard said. "Being our first victory in the IRL, we were kind of excited. "The first one was special, no doubt about it. I think I would be just as excited if we won tomorrow (Sunday), too."
Menard had other business commitments when his team raced at Dover, Del., and Charlotte, N.C., so he watched both on television. He hadn't viewed a race on TV for some time and said it provided a different perspective.
"I actually learned a few things," he said.
Heading into Sunday's race, Sharp leads the season standings by eight points over Stewart. Menard said the title chase hasn't boiled down to those two, with drivers like Davey Hamilton, Scott Goodyear, Brack and Jeff Ward still in contention.
Stewart is seeking his second straight championship before departing the Pep Boys IRL to the stock car of Winston Cup owner Joe Gibbs in 1999. The Menard Racing team is heavily searching for a replacement and will intensify its effort after Atlanta.
"We're going to get real serious after Atlanta," Menard said, "but we've been looking for the last year, really, since we've known what was going on with Tony. Yeah, I'll have a lot of input on that.
"It's not only leaving us but leaving the series. I wish he wasn't leaving the series. If he had to leave me, I wish he'd stay in the series, although on the other hand I'm glad we don't have to race against him. We're going to miss him. He's a good guy."
Menard said the team is looking wherever it can for a capable driver. He noted that there have been some CART drivers who have expressed interest.
"There's just a lot of guys around looking for a ride," Menard said, "but the thing is to pick the right guy where the chemistry is right, everything is right. We'll just have to see how everything plays out."
The good thing for the IRL is that Menard intends to stay on.
"We'll just keep plugging along and see what happens," he said.