Iracingone Replay:/I Kansas City
December 24, 2001 | 6:00 A.M. EST
The 1.5-mile track in Kansas City, Kan., hosted its first IRL race on July 28, and it was easily one of the best races of the season. The 200-lap event featured 20 lead changes among eight drivers, just two cautions and 10 drivers on the lead lap at the end.
To top it all off, one of the fan favorites won the race. Outspoken and likeable, Eddie Cheever Jr. won his first race of the season and fifth of his career after outsmarting Sam Hornish Jr. and Donnie Beechler over the final 10 laps of the race.
More than 75,000 people were on their feet as the three battled it out on the track while summer temperatures into the 100s.
“The competition is really severe here,” Cheever said in a sweltering victory lane. “I had a secret weapon behind me today. It was the Infiniti. We’ve got it where we want it to be after two years.
“I swore I was not going to finish second. I didn’t do that in Formula One, and it has haunted me ever since. From the first lap (today), I wanted to win because we had the best equipment. Not winning would have been unacceptable.”
Hornish’s second-place finish was his third straight and gave him a 60-point lead on Buddy Lazier in the points standings. Hornish went on to win the title, with Lazier hanging on to second.
“We’ll take second,” Hornish said. “I had fun racing with Eddie. It’s fun racing with guys like Eddie and Donnie. You know they’re not going to do something to put you in the wall.”
Cheever enjoyed the battle to the checkered flag, too.
“Sam was running me hard the whole time,” he said. “He gave me a lot of room. I gave him a lot of room. That’s the way the racing in the IRL is supposed to be. I think I’ll get two beers, walk down to his motorhome, and we’ll have a laugh about it. I never let anybody go by. Someone goes by me when they’re faster.”
Hornish was faster on Lap 190, when he passed Cheever for the lead. Cheever, however, didn’t let the second-year driver get away. He kept in touch with Hornish via the draft and pulled up to Hornish on Lap 192 but couldn’t complete the pass.
With Beechler tucked in right behind him, Cheever tried to get by Hornish several times. Beechler, sensing an opportunity to grab second, went to the high side of Cheever on Lap 195 but couldn’t keep his car in the groove and dropped back.
Finally, on Lap 197 Cheever made his winning pass. The win was the second for the Infiniti powerplant, pleasing Steve Kight, director of Infiniti marketing.
“We’ve been knocking on the door, and today we finally pushed it open,” he said.
Beechler’s third-place finish was the best of his career. He also led his three laps during the race. Rookie Felipe Giaffone, who led two laps, finished fourth, and Buddy Lazier rounded out the Top 5. Lazier also led 13 laps.
Other leaders included Eliseo Salazar with 32, Robby McGehee with 11 and Mark Dismore with 10.
For the second time during the season, Scott Sharp won the pole but fell out of contention after crashing. He also won the pole at Indianapolis but had an accident on the first lap.
The Ameristar Casino Indy 200 was the IRL’s second sellout of the season. Two more would follow at Nashville Superspeedway and Chicagoland Speedway.