Ray Survives At Atlanta
April 28, 2001 | 8:00 A.M. EST
Greg Ray was the only one with immunity, picking up his first win of the season in convincing fashion.
Ray led 184 of the 200 laps of the ZMAX 500.
Thirteen cars were running when the checkered flag fell, and just three of those were on the lead lap.
Scott Sharp, Buzz Calkins, points leader Sam Hornish Jr., Eliseo Salazar and Buddy Lazier rounded out the Top 5.
The start of the race was delayed by 50 minutes because of a rain shower that passed over the track in the hours before the start of the 7 p.m. ET race. That was an omen for what was about to happen.
The race to the end was short on contenders, primarily because of a 10-car pileup on Lap 52. Rookies Cory Witherill and Felipe Giaffone touched on the front stretch, causing a chain-reaction wreck behind them.
“After that, all hell broke loose,” said Billy Boat, driver of the No. 98 Dallara-Aurora.
Witherill, who was in his first ever IRNLS race, had a problem with his No. 16 G Force-Aurora and slowed when Giaffone tapped him in the left rear.
“I went for a wild ride,” Witherill said. “It was something straight out of the movies.”
Al Unser Jr., Sarah Fisher, Robby McGehee, Robbie Buhl, Davey Hamilton, Casey Mears, Jon Herb, Jeret Schroeder and Jack Miller also got caught up in the melee. Miller got the worst of it. His car pinballed among the others, caught fire briefly and was turned upside down. Then, Mears’ car went airborne and landed on Miller’s tumbling vehicle.
“It was a wild ride,” Mears said.
Miller was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center, suffering from a possible concussion.
Fisher was coming off a second-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway and drove through the debris that was strewn across much of the front stretch.
“Oh my goodness, there was debris everywhere,” she said. “The only thing that’s hurt is the left front suspension.”
Her Walker Racing team repaired the No. 15 Dallara-Aurora and got the 20-year-old back into the race, albeit 21 laps down. Herb also re-entered the race with a new front wing that the Tri-Star Motorsports team borrowed from Hamilton’s Sam Schmidt Motorsports team.
The cleanup consumed 34 laps and closed off the front stretch, forcing the cars not involved to drive down pit road during the caution period.
Two of the other favorites dropped out early, too. Mark Dismore, who started fourth, and Eddie Cheever Jr., who started third, were both out by Lap 39 with mechanical problems.
“I think we had an opportunity to bring the Delpi Automotive car home in the Top 2 or 3 today,” said Dismore, who is one of a handful of teams using Ilmor Engineering as its engine-builder.
Dismore may have been out early, but he was encouraged by the performance of his car during the first 33 laps and proclaimed his Kelley Racing team ready for the Indianapolis 500.
“We’ll be in Indy, and we’ll be good,” Dismore said.
Cheever Jr. wasn’t in the same mood. He had tested his new Infiniti 35A engine extensively this year and was visibly disappointed after his hopes went up in a puff of white smoke on Lap 39.
“I have no idea what went wrong,” Cheever said. "It's obviously not how we wanted to finish, and we're not quite sure what happened, but we think it was something in the top end of the engine."
He won’t have much time to figure it out before getting back behind the wheel of his No. 51 next Sunday when drivers head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first day of practice for the Indianapolis 500.