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Goodyear ready to put close calls behind him news services

INDIANAPOLIS -- Scott Goodyear once again arrives at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a single goal. It's a common goal of every driver who starts the Indianapolis 500, yet one no driver come closer to attaining without achieving than Goodyear.

That's why he has only one thing on his mind this May as he prepares for this weekend's qualifications.

Scott Goodyear (behind) hopes to finish ahead of Al Unser Jr., and the rest of the Indy 500 field this year.

"I've started in the front row, I've started in the back row, I've started in rows in between," Goodyear said. "All I want to do is win the race."

The driver of the Pennzoil Panther Racing machine reached age 40 last December and knows he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. And Goodyear is right in his assessment of his nine previous Indy 500 appearances.

Two of which have ended in second-place finishes. None more frustrating than 1992 when he started last (33rd), but mounted a late-race charge that put him on the tail of Al Unser Jr. as they exploded out of Turn 4 on Lap 200.

Goodyear actually got the nose of his car even with Unser's rear wheel as they reached the checkered flag in a pulsating finish. The difference between first and second was .043 of a second -- the closest in Indianapolis 500 history.

Still, it was little consolation for Goodyear.

The next year, Goodyear started fourth and actually finished a fraction of a second in front of Unser. But unfortunately, there were six other cars in front of Goodyear, led by winner Emerson Fittipaldi.

Then there was 1995. Goodyear started on the outside of the front row in '95 and actually crossed the finish line first. But he couldn't even win that way. He had passed the pace car on a late restart and was relegated to 14th place.

Goodyear's latest runner-up finish came in 1997 when he couldn't quite run down Arie Luyendyk. That margin of defeat? A mere .570 of a second.

Oh, by the way, Goodyear arrives at The Brickyard fresh off another tantalizing finish in the latest Indy Racing Northern Lights Series event -- the Vegas Indy 300 on April 22. Goodyear was leading the race with 20 laps left when suddenly blue smoke poured out the rear of his car, ending his challenge.

And ironically, who would pass him and take the victory? Al Unser Jr.

"I hope the luck is going to change here at the 500," Goodyear said. "That would be sort of nice for everything to go right here. The first year with the Panther team we thought we had a couple of them (wins) that got away. Last year we won two and probably gave a couple more away.

"I think this year we've got to keep on pushing. I think the key thing for us right now is to put a big focus on two things. No. 1 is the championship, and right now we've got to turn our sights on just the 500. The whole focus right now is just making this car as good as it can be as far as a race car is concerned."

Team manager John Barnes said he is really happy with his entire team in its preparation to win Indy.Barnes is one of the team's co-owners along with Gary Pedigo, NFL quarterbck Jim Harbaugh, Doug Boles and Mike Griffin.

But what if Goodyear ends his career without victory in the world's biggest race?

"I'd be disappointed," he says bluntly. "But you know I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I think I've been quite fortunate to come here in 1990 and be here every year with the exception of 1996, obviously without an injury. From that standpoint, maybe we're weren't as lucky as some, but we're a lot more lucky than a lot of others."

Neither Goodyear nor Barnes expects to challenge for the pole on Saturday. That isn't in their program. Their primary goal is get a spot near the front so Goodyear can avoid any accidents that might occur back in the pack at the start of the race.

"My job is to make sure we are there at the end of the day," he said. "Make sure I've avoided any wrecks, flying debris or anything that is going on and hopefully communicate with the team to help make the car better. "If we're there at the end of the day, we want to be in contention to win the event. We've been pretty lucky here, because every time we've been running we've been somewhere in contention to win the event.

"We just hope luck is with us and that we're there for the last 10-lap shootout, because that's what really makes it exciting."

If that's the case, Goodyear hopes it's time to cure a case of seconditis.
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