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Luyendyk Wins Again in Phoenix

March 25, 1996

PHOENIX (AP) _ Sometimes reality reads like a script.

Arie Luyendyk’s victory Sunday in the Dura-Lube 200 was heart-warming for Arizonans, who have taken the soft-spoken Dutchman to their hearts since he took up residence in Scottsdale.

It also was a blessing for the Indy Racing League, which has some promising rookies but only Luyendyk’s marquee name to trot out in its credibility battle against rival CART.

``I think it’s time to stop talking about whether the IRL has arrived,″ said Jonathan Byrd, co-owner of Luyendyk’s car. ``It’s here, it’s real, and once we get our cars together, this is going to be the premier series in auto sports.″

CART’s preoccupation with road courses _ only six of its 17 races last year were on ovals _ led Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George to form the IRL, and Phoenix International Raceway owner Buddy Jobe decided to back him. It’s supposed to help develop young drivers.

But Luyendyk, 42, used years of savvy to pick up his fourth Indy-car title and his first in nearly five years.

``The rookies are pretty good _ Richie Hearn ran well, and Tony Stewart ran pretty good,″ he said. ``But you do need experience on ovals. If I’d finished second or third, I wouldn’t have been happy. I’d have felt a little bit empty.″

Luyendyk also benefited from pit-stop mistakes by A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Scott Sharp and Mike Groff to win the second event in the IRL’s inaugural season.

The winner of the 1990 Indianapolis 500, who also won at Phoenix and Nazareth in 1991, averaged 117.368 mph to beat Sharp by 8.896 seconds, leading the last 67 laps on the 1-mile circuit.

``You don’t have to win by 11 seconds when you can win by five,″ said Luyendyk, who stayed just out of reach the final one-third of the race. ``I knew I could stretch the lead anytime I wanted, so I pretty much just had to bring it home.″

Sharp was the only other driver to finish 200 laps. Groff was third, followed by Hearn.

Luyendyk won his first pole in Phoenix with a record qualifying run Saturday and led for 24 laps. Then he gave up the lead for the first time because his Reynard-Ford Coswroth felt loose on its tires.

Adjustments helped, but the final caution flag of the race came out on the 128th lap, and that hurt Luyendyk, too. He had chosen the previous lap to pit for the last time.

But worse things happened to Sharp and Groff, who were running 1-2.

They pitted, but missed seeing the caution lights at the head of pit row, which signified the pits were closed. Both received a one-lap penalty.

``A.J. called me in again, and the lights were blinking,″ Sharp said. ``I asked if we should come in at that time, and they said yes, and then we get penalized. I don’t think that’s very consistent.″

Foyt berated USAC officials, claiming other cars should have been black-flagged for violating the rule earlier, but finally chalked it up to experience.

``I’m disappointed that we didn’t win because we got penalized a lap, but that’s racing,″ he said. ``I think the boys did a hell of a job. They’re getting some great experience.″

Meanwhile, Robbie Buhl, who was running third, had a 60-second pit stop. When the green flag came out for the 136th lap, only Luyendyk, Sharp and Buhl, who didn’t finish because of a broken header, were on the lead lap.

Luyendyk, who led a total of 122 laps, averaged 129.988 when he won the CART event in Phoenix five years ago. But the IRL was an altogether new venture.

Twelve rookies were in the 22-car starting field, and only 10 cars were running at the end. Six cars went to the garage after collisions that induced four caution flags for 37 laps.

Buzz Calkins, who won the first IRL race Jan. 27 in Orlando, Fla., was sixth, behind Johnny O’Connell.

Stewart took over for laps 25-35, but never got the lead back after a 90-second pit stop, the first of two long stops that preceded car trouble and resulted in him finishing only 128 laps.

Hearn also led, and Sharp and Buhl had the lead twice.

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