Down to the wire at Texas

Three drivers are fighting for a season title, Eddie Cheever has offered Scott Goodyear a ride for next season, a 19-year-old female driver is the most popular driver in the series, the defending champion can't wait for the season to end so he can start fresh and team owner AJ Foyt hasn't won a race all season

Down to the wire at Texas

Welcome back to the IRL, or formally known as the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, as the series reaches the end of its nine-race schedule.

The high-speed Indy car series is back at the Texas Motor Speedway for the final race of the 2000 season - Sunday's Excite 500.

Buddy Lazier has a 38-point lead over Scott Goodyear in the battle for the $1million Northern Light Cup. That means Lazier clinches the championship if he finishes 13th or better in Sunday's 312-mile, 208-lap race.

Goodyear said his future was uncertain for next season and was hinting that he would compete in sportscar racing. But, rival driver Eddie Cheever, who is third in the standings, 42 points behind, announced on Friday that he had offered Goodyear a ride in the IRL for next season.

Goodyear is mulling over the prospect.

Sarah Fisher, the 19-year-old rookie driver from Ohio, is easily the most popular driver in the IRL and came close to become the first female ever to win an Indy car race when she finished second at Kentucky Speedway on August 27.

Greg Ray is the defending IRL champion but enters this race outside of the top 10 in the points. Ray has just one win this year and lost his close friend and team manager, Thomas Knapp, earlier this year when team owner John Menard fired him.

AJ Foyt, the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a driver, entered this season with an impressive hard charger as one of his two drivers in Jeff Ward. But the team's other driver, Eliseo Salazar, has consistently outrun Ward in every race this season.

Ward was the fastest driver in Friday's practice session when he turned a lap at 215.343 miles per hour in a G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora. Ray was second fastest at 215.237mph in a Dallara/Aurora and Goodyear was third at 214.637mph, also in a Dallara/Aurora.

Davey Hamilton (214.312 mph) was fourth followed by Stephan Gregoire's 213.909mph.

Lazier was 12th on the speed chart at 213.152mph as the teams prepare for Saturday afternoon's qualification session.

"I'm feeling very confident, but we don't have any preconceived notions," Lazier said. "We've got to finish 13th or better to make sure we accomplish our goals and sometimes that is really hard to do in this series. I'm feeling really good though because I have an awesome race team backing me up and that gives me a lot of confidence. I have a lot of faith in my guys.

"It's a stressful weekend for me and for our team. We are a little nervous, but I think we have what we need to accomplish our goals. These two guys are tough. If there is anybody I'm racing for the championship and would least like to compete against, it's these two because they are very tough competitors."

Because Goodyear is not returning with Panther Racing, he didn't test with the team at Texas. But it didn't take him long to get up to speed at the high-banked 1.5-mile oval.

"I didn't test since Kentucky, it was nice getting back into it and it took me a few laps to some cobwebs off this morning," Goodyear said. "We had a plan and executed it pretty well. We're going to make a concerted effort to go after the pole to get some points.

"If we win it, we have a shot at the championship. Buddy is worried about us, but we are worried about him because he is a very fierce competitor."

Cheever is about the only driver of the 28 that are at Texas who is disappointed that track officials have paved over the bump in the fourth turn. By making it smoother, the cars are not disturbed, but Cheever said he was able to use that to his advantage.

"I hate the track now that they have taken that bump out, I liked that bump," Cheever said. "That bump made it a lot more exciting. Now, it's just a corner. The bump made you pay attention. It took everybody's game to a higher level. When we were here last year and you went two abreast over that bump, you had to make sure you had the car right when you entered that corner."

As for offering Goodyear a ride for next season, Cheever is excited about the prospect of adding another successful driver to the team.

"I've asked him to drive for us next year so there is an opportunity right there," Cheever said. "I think Scott is a tremendous competitor and I have asked him if he would like to drive for us. I would be more than happy to have him drive one of our cars."

Goodyear said, "I feel like I'm in the middle of a marriage proposal right here. I'm not sure. We've had some good conversations, but 10 years ago we wouldn't be sitting at a table looking at each other talking about driving on the same team for each other because as rookies, we used to drive into each other on the race track in CART.

"There are lots of opportunities out there now and I have to clearly define in my mind if I'm going to come back. For me to come back and make that decision to come back on a full-time basis, I'm not going to come back and do it half-ass, I'm going to come back and eat, sleep and breathe it because I want to win races. It's something that I'm looking very serious at right now."

The only crash in Friday's two practice sessions involved Robby McGehee, who hit the fourth turn wall and slid down the frontstretch. He was taken off on a stretcher but was treated and released in the infield care center. McGehee has not been cleared to drive and will have to meet with Dr Henry Bock, the IRL's medical director, on Saturday morning for further evaluation.

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