Sharp Wins Tight Texas Race
June 11, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Sharp kept his accelerator to the floor, needing every bit of speed he got, to win the fastest and closest race in IRL history. He beat McGehee by just more than a half-second -- .059 -- at the Casino Magic 500 on Sunday.
"If he had two or three more feet, he would have got by me," Sharp said. "I got in the corner and drove it deep and said, 'If you come down on me, we're both going to wreck.' But we raced clean, and it was just a great race. It was awesome."
Sharp averaged an IRL-record 169.182 mph while becoming the five-year-old circuit's first five-time winner. He also was the fifth different winner in as many races this year.
The side-by-side and nose-to-tail sprint to the Casino Magic finish began after McGehee and Sharp went three-wide to pass lapped Sarah Fisher in the fourth turn on the 202nd of 208 laps at the 1.5-mile oval.
McGehee's only official lead came right after the pass of Fisher and the following lap -- both laps by about one-tenth of a second. He even nosed ahead of Sharp on the backstretch the final lap but had the wrong line.
"All I could do was take the outside line. I knew it wasn't the best line," McGehee said. "I tried to cut under him on the backstretch, but he had the bottom line covered."
Unable to get around Sharp on the final turn, McGehee instead finished right on his tail for the best finish in his 12 IRL starts.
It was a fitting end for the race in which eight different drivers traded the lead an IRL-record 31 times. During one 11-lap stretch, the lead pack of eight drivers was separated by only three-quarters of a second or less.
Al Unser Jr. led for a race-best 79 laps and finished third in his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I've never had this much fun in a single-seat, open-wheel car in my life," said Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. "You don't get this type of racing anywhere else in single-seat racing.
"This formula is the formula of the future. Whoever watched this race saw a preview of racing in the years to come. I was sitting in the car, but I was standing up the whole race."
Unser was still in the lead when he decided to make his final stop for fuel on lap 160, briefly giving the lead back to pole-sitter Buddy Lazier with Sharp right behind him. Lazier went into the pit five laps later.
Sharp remained on the track, then got a huge break when Jeff Ward's blown engine on lap 171 led to a caution flag and let the leader take his last stop on under a yellow flag.
"That is probably why we are sitting here," Sharp said. "We went as long as possible and got a real lucky break. I couldn't believe it when Al Jr. went in, I knew I could run another 15 laps."
After another caution and the final restart, on lap 188, Sharp was still in front. McGehee was fourth at the time, but needed just four laps to pass Mark Dismore and Buzz Calkins to set up the final run to the finish line.
Lazier, the season points leader awarded the pole after qualifying was rained out, led 62 laps but finished in eighth place in the race that was postponed a day by rain.
Eddie Cheever Jr., who a day earlier won the True Value International Race of Champions Series race in Michigan, was in the top five Sunday until a 31-second pit stop.
During a routine stop after 119 laps, Cheever's engine stalled and the extended time in the pit getting it started was costly. Within 10 laps, Cheever was a lap down and out of contention.