Formula One
 Sunday, June 18
Cheever proves Infiniti's indeed a winner
 Associated Press


FOUNTAIN, Colo. -- For 150 laps, Eddie Cheever Jr. endured a "very hard race with lots of different battles going on." At the end, it was little more than a Sunday drive.

With the clearly superior car over the final 50 laps, Cheever earned his fourth career IRL victory and the first for an Infiniti engine in the Radisson 200 on Sunday.

Eddie Cheever Jr.
Eddie Cheever Jr. posted the fourth IRL victory of his career.

Cheever, who took over the lead on lap 172 and crossed the finish line on a caution flag, also took over the season points lead from Buddy Lazier, who blew an engine on the first lap.

Cheever, 42, was fastest in practice Friday, qualified 10th and ran among the leaders all day Sunday.

The victory by the Infiniti engine ended a string of 34 consecutive wins by Oldsmobile Aurora engines on the circuit.

Cheever led rookie Airton Dare by 13 seconds with two laps to go when Donnie Beechler and Al Unser Jr. crashed in Turn 1.

Beechler, running fourth, was trying to overtake Scott Sharp, in third. With Sharp on the inside, Unser in the middle and Beechler up high, Beechler made contact with Unser, sending both into the wall.

Dare wound up second, 20.9 seconds behind Cheever, and Sharp was third, 21.9 seconds back.

"Once we got the car working properly, it was very good," Cheever said. "I got so tired of answering, 'When will Infiniti win a race?' The next question is going to be, 'When will Infiniti win the championship?'

"This engine has gotten stronger and stronger. Today, I really believe I had an advantage, and my advantage was the powerplant I had in the back of my car."

After finding the correct setup, Cheever said he "really had an uneventful race. My engine ran impeccably, my car ran great in traffic, my tires at the end were perfect. I don't really have much of a story to tell. The last 50 laps I was having to play games with myself to stay on the ball. I was acting like I was doing an engine test, just looking at all the controls and hoping it didn't rain."

Dare, a 22-year-old Brazilian, said he had no hope of catching Cheever in the concluding laps. "I was more worried about holding off the guy behind me (Sharp). There was no way I could close the gap on Eddie."

Sharp, who won last week in Texas, said his car was "faster than Eddie's at times, but he was more consistent. When I fell off and got a little loose, his car remained decent."

Before an estimated crowd of 25,000, Robbie Buhl overtook pole-sitter Greg Ray on the opening lap and led the first 60 laps.

The first of five caution flags came out on lap 7 when Billy Boat and Sarah Fisher both spun, with Fisher hitting the outside wall but Boat able to continue.

Sharp moved ahead of Ray into second place and, when handling problems caused Mark Dismore to drop from fourth to 14th, Cheever moved up to fourth and Beechler to fifth.

Buhl suddenly slowed on lap 61, smoke billowing and oil spewing from his Infiniti engine, the only other Infiniti in the field.

Sharp took the lead, with Cheever second and Beechler third.

Ray's season-long slump continued. Despite setting a track record in qualifying, the defending IRL champion damaged his right front wing then he collided with Davey Hamilton in the pits on lap 65. Then Ray hit the outside wall after unsuccessfully trying to pass Dismore on lap 96.

It was Ray's third crash and fourth DNF in six races this season.

Sharp led for 62 laps before serious handling problems allowed Cheever and then Beechler to pass him on lap 134.

A succession of pit stops by the leaders jumbled the leaderboard, and Stephan Gregoire moved into the lead for 17 laps. Gregoire, however, hadn't pitted since lap 103.

Cheever easily passed Gregoire on lap 172, and Gregoire eventually pitted.

Lazier was the first driver out, blowing an engine on the backstretch of the first lap and coasting in.

"We were passing cars and something in the motor broke," Lazier said. "It's very disappointing and very destructive to our championship hopes."

Cheever, earning 50 points for the victory, raised his season total to 176. Lazier slipped to second with 168 points, and Sharp moved into third at 159.

Cheever's victory at PPIR was a good omen. Every driver who has won this event since its inception in 1997 has gone on to win the season title (Tony Stewart in 1997; Kenny Brack in 1998; Ray, who won both races here, in 1999).

"That's one tradition I don't want to break," Cheever said.

Notebook: Beechler, Unser tangle in Turn 1

IRL increases 2001 season to 12-race schedule

 Eddie Cheever snatches the lead from Stephan Gregoire in the Radisson 200.
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 Eddie Cheever takes the checkered flag in the Radisson 200.
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 Donnie Beechler crashes into Al Unser Jr. in Turn 1 with two laps left.
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 Greg Ray slams into the outside wall after failing to pass Mark Dismore.
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 Eddie Cheever talks about getting Infiniti's first IRL victory.
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 Eddie Cheever talks about the possibility of winning the IRL championship.
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 Scott Sharpe comments on being the third-place finisher.
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