Jimmy Vasser Wins Marlboro 500


Jimmy Vasser knew just what Greg Moore was thinking Sunday as Moore led the way toward a one-lap shootout at the end of the Marlboro 500.

"He was a sitting duck, just like I was when he beat me at Michigan," Vasser said, referring to the final lap of the U.S. 500 on July 26 at Michigan Speedway, where Vasser led at the start of the final lap and Moore won the race.

"The only chance he had was if I got a terrible start," Vasser added.

This time, Vasser and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Zanardi both had great restarts, ganging up on Moore.

As Vasser raced away to a $1.5 million victory in the CART FedEx Series season finale, Zanardi kept Moore's attention.

It was a fitting finish to a sometimes wild, sometimes breathtaking 500-mile race, as a crowd of 106,000 already standing for much of the afternoon was treated to a dramatic series of events over the final four laps.

CART's bad boy, Paul Tracy penalized earlier in the weekend for rough driving last month in the race in Australia was out front for a restart on lap 247 of the 250-lap event. But Tracy never even got to the flagstand.

As he got up to speed in turn two, Tracy's Reynard-Honda suddenly veered sideways and shot off the track into the infield grass, then slid into a concrete barrier as the rest of the field sped past on the 2-mile, high-banked track.

That gave the lead to Moore, who warily watched his pursuers in his mirrors.

When the green flag waved for the final time with just one lap remaining, Vasser shot past on the outside and two-time reigning FedEx Series champion Zanardi whipped past on the inside, leaving the frustrated Moore momentarily in third.

"I was six or seven car-lengths ahead of them coming out of turn three," Moore said. "I don't know where they came from, but both of them were right on top of me by the start-finish line."

"In this case, second place really is the first loser. It just pays regular second-place money and it's a bitter pill to swallow."

Moore was referring to the fact that the race winner Sunday got a special $1 million payoff, instead of the usual $100,000 winner's share, while second-place paid the usual $60,000.

And Vasser, pulling away to his third win of the season and the eighth of his career, also won another $500,000 for taking second place in the season standings.

Dario Franchitti started the day with a 12-point lead over Vasser in the battle for the runner-up spot, but Franchitti went out early with an engine failure and Vasser, who needed to finish at least third to do it, got the job done.

On the last lap, Moore managed to get back past Zanardi for second, finishing 0.360 seconds behind, while Zanardi, driving in his final CART race, barely held off Adrian Fernandez and Mauricio Gugelmin in a three-wide finish for third.

"Just like Jimmy at Michigan. We all said you don't ant to be in the lead on the last lap," Moore said. "Jimmy passed me and I was lucky to get back past Alex on the backstretch. He got a little out of shape in turn two and I was able to take advantage."

Asked if he was shocked by Tracy's mistake, Vasser said, "I was speechless. But it almost happened to me. My car got a little loose on a couple of restarts. It was easy to do. I really feel sorry for Paul."

After Vasser took a slow victory lap, Zanardi, who will race in Formula One next season, met him in the pits and gave his three-year teammate a bear hug.

"I'm pretty amazed to be here because my race didn't start very well," said Zanardi, who came back after losing a lap early. He was black-flagged after pulling out of the pits with his fuel hose still hooked to the car.

"My car was out of balance at the start. It was a good car, but we had to bring it out," added Zanardi, who had a series-leading seven victories on the way to his second straight series championship.

Bobby Rahal, retiring as a driver, finished 11th, a lap down, in his final CART race.

The three-time series champion said, "Jimmy's got a million bucks, but I've got more than that in memories."

Even with the new Handford Device, an aerodynamic piece attached to the rear wing that slows the Champ Cars down on CART's two big ovals, top speeds were above 230 during the race. But, despite several hard crashes, there were no injuries reported.

Among the drivers who found the wall was Michael Andretti, who was running second to Vasser when the late-afternoon glare caused him to make a mistake on lap 211. He got too low on the banking, lost control and slammed the wall in turn four.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed