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The Callahan Report: Tony Stewart Wins . . . Finally

30 June 1997

FOUNTAIN, CO: Tony Stewart has led all but one Indy Racing League event. He never led the lap that counted....until today. The open wheel star held off a charging Stephan Gregoire to win the first ever IRL event at the Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Loose cars and wild crashes described the running of the inaugural Colorado 200. Staying out of traffic and flying debris at the new facility was about as likely as Nintendo recalling all its Mike Tyson's "Punchout" game controllers so they can add a "Bite Button".

Stewart led 193 circuits of the 200 lap event. Most of his lap speeds were in the 80 mph range. The caution light was on for 82 laps (one hour and sixteen minutes). In practice leading up to the race, there were only three accidents The race saw nine crashes involving ten cars.

Tony Stewart Tony Stewart

Stewart used his midget and sprint car restart experience time and time again. The restarts were perfect and the driver of the Glidden/G Force/Aurora was rewarded with a long awaited victory. The victory was not a runaway. Gregoire continued to beat cars on restarts throughout the race and was in position to win at the end. The Frenchman, driving for Chastain Motorsports, proved once again that lower budget teams can compete with the high financed teams (like Team Menard) in the IRL. Stewart finished just 0.22 seconds ahead of Gregoire.

One of the many victims of the Colorado concrete was two time Indy 500 winner, Arie Luyendyk. The flying Dutchman brought out the seventh yellow flag with 36 laps remaining in the race. Exiting turn two, the winner of he last two IRL events jerked loose, tagging the wall with the right rear. Luyendyk slid across the track and scrubbed off speed. He was without steering and brakes. The car went head on into the inside wall. Luyendyk was uninjured. He was complaining of a "loose" condition all day and running eighth at the time of his accident.

Scott Sharp made his return to racing this weekend after being sidelined for two races with a brain hemorrhage. His comeback didn't last long. Sharp crashed on the first lap and almost took out his teammate, Davey Hamilton. Sharp was placed on a stretcher and taken to the infield care center. He was then transferred to a local hospital where he was reported as being awake and alert. Sharp was to have a precautionary CAT scan.

Next on the crash list was Johnny Unser. He had heavy contact in turn two on lap 23. Unser was driving the Jonathan Byrd/Bryant Infiniti for the injured Mike Groff. Unser walked away from the accident. Unser said "I'm banged up a little but I'll be fine. I don't know really what happened. I don't know if it was the air or what." Unser was driving one of only two Infiniti powered cars in the race. The Infiniti engineers were trying out new parts to increase horsepower in the power starved engines.

Jimmy Kite, making his IRL debut, crashed the number 33 Old Navy Car. There was a big flash of fire on impact. He spun while trying to make a run on Brazilian Affonso Giaffone. Another Sprint and Silver Crown star, Kite had been one of the fastest drivers in every practice session leading up to the race. Kite said, "I made a rookie mistake. I'll learn. Hopefully we'll get a lot more chances. Its a shame cause it was fun." Some good news for Kite... He has been signed to a five year deal with team Scandia.

Billy Boat, the second place finisher in the Texas race, was driving for the still injured John Paul Jr. He started fifteenth and ran as high as fifth by lap 68. Boat and Roberto Guerrero crashed together near the halfway point. Guerrero was looking racier than he had since changing to the new IRL equipment in January. He was running in fifth at the time of the crash. Guerrero said, "I'm bummed out but happy that we are back in contention. Billy was loose and lost it in front of me." Boat agreed, "My car was loose and he came in behind me. I was already on the edge and he sent me over it. I was just hanging on."

Other one car crashes involved Dr. Jack Miller, Greg Ray, Kenny Brack, and Robbie Groff. Brack and Groff were running in the top ten when they met the wall. Groff's crash came on lap 193. A quick clean up followed, setting up 2 lap dash to the finish. Stewart won the final sprint, just as he had all day. Series Points leader, Davey Hamilton finished third followed by Eddie Cheever. Home crowd favorite Buzz Calkins came across fifth, followed by Indy rookie standout, Vincenzo Sospiri. Scott Goodyear was the last car on the lead lap, finishing in seventh place.

During the "spurts" of racing, there were great battles in front of the pack. Third through tenth position swapped nearly every lap. The new track proved to be a racing showplace. Running at the foot of the Rocky Mountains did have a twist.....the teams lost 80 horsepower due to the altitude.

The IRL travels to Charlotte Motor Speedway July 26 for the next race. The event will be another "under the lights" race, starting at 8:00 p.m. local time.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel