Ray Hopes To Rebound At Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Look at Greg Ray's plight: The defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion stands 17th in the point standings with 55 points, 83 behind leader Buddy Lazier.

Ray is coming out of the Indianapolis 500 with the PPG Pole but two crashes during the race, resulting in a 33rd-place finish. It was only the fourth time in 84 editions of the race that the driver who started on the pole was the first one out of the race.

So how does this tough, talented Texan plan to rebound from this state of affairs? How about winning two races in one day this Saturday? Or two wins in two weekends?

Ray, along with fellow Indy Racing drivers Eddie Cheever Jr. and Mark Dismore, will compete in the third round of the International Race of Champions series at Michigan Speedway at noon. Then they will fly to Fort Worth, Texas, to take the 7 p.m. green flag in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

For Ray, the Casino Magic 500 is an opportunity to bury his Indianapolis 500 disappointment and put himself back into contention for the Northern Light Cup.

In five races at the fast 1.5-mile oval 20 miles north of Fort Worth, Ray has two second-place finishes, a third, an eighth and a 21st. He captured the pole in last year's season-ending Mall.com 500 at Texas and placed second and third in the two races at TMS in 1999.

Ray, from nearby Plano, Texas, said he can't cry over what has happened in the past but must focus on what's immediately ahead.

"I think the biggest thing I must do is, I can't focus on the championship," Ray said. "I must focus on the first lap, the first pit stop and first race and do the best job I can. I think really I'm going back to the same state of mind as last year.

"At Indy, I tried to win. Now instead of putting pressure on myself to win, I'm putting focus on the moment."

Ray comes into the Casino Magic 500 in similar dire straits as last year. He finished 21st in each of the first three races in 1999, including the Indianapolis 500, where he tangled with Dismore in the pits right after assuming the lead.

The second-place finish at Texas revived his season, and he went on to win twice at Pikes Peak in Colorado and at Dover, Del., to turn a miserable start into a marvelous $1-million finish for winning the Northern Light Cup.

By a quirk of fate, the Radisson Indy 200 at Pikes Peak follows the Casino Magic 500 by eight days. If Ray could win both of those and pick up the 110 points available, he could be on his way to becoming the first Indy Racing Northern Light Series driver to successfully defend his title.
"This is very crucial, having a limited number of races," he said about the next two weekends. "Now that Indy is behind us, it is imperative for us to focus on every lap of every race."

The odds are tough for Ray in the IROC race that kicks off his racing day Saturday. The participants other then the three Indy Racing drivers are some of NASCAR's best, including Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. The four-event, all-star series is contested in stock cars.

Ray's first venture into the IROC series has seen him finish ninth in the opener at Daytona and seventh in the second round at Talladega. He has 14 points and is tied for ninth with defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jarrett.

Although Ray considers racing in the IROC series an honor, the Casino Magic 500 and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series have the higher priority.

"It makes it a little difficult for me and the (Menard's) team having to focus on two races," he said. "It's rush, rush, rush. It's a pretty hurried time. I've got to make use of
the time to put in all of the input. It's the first time I've done two races in one day. At the end of Saturday, I'll tell you whether it's great or whether it's awful."

Ray was at Michigan on Tuesday practicing. He, Cheever and Dismore will be at Texas on Thursday for practice and MBNA Pole qualifying. They will practice Friday at Texas before flying north to Michigan that night. After the IROC race Saturday, the trio probably will try to sleep on Saturday's return flight to Texas, Ray said.

And don't count on Ray dreaming about this year's Indianapolis 500 during that nap, either. He said the team never clicked during the event although he edged sensational rookie and eventual race winner Juan Montoya for the pole.

"There were certain things we could have done leading up to and in the race," he said. "I'm frustrated by that. You take the risk. It's a live by the sword, die by the sword attitude. I love what I do. You go on.

"Our team is capable of winning every weekend, as are several other teams. It is up to us to execute and make the least mistakes. It's very clear to me what happened. At the end of the day, I drive the car, my hands are on the steering wheel, and I crashed. Things are not as simple as they seem.

"Indy happens once a year. I want to get up the next morning and do it again. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. We ventured the wrong way."

There was one consolation for Ray. He earned $388,700, the most ever paid to a last-place finisher at Indy. In the rundown of finishers, he received the fourth-largest check because of various pole-related and lap leader bonuses.

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