Indy racing arrived in the state of Tennessee at the new Nashville Superspeedway with a bang, both figuratively and literally. In practice, teams had a tough time getting a grip on the concrete surface and the rather unusual squarish corners. Some teams complained that the concrete was rough, while other teams had no problem with it. (Mark Dismore joked about having to go to the infield hospital to get his teeth put back in his mouth.) A point of interest was whether anyone would be able to break the 200-MPH barrier; several cars topped it in practice, but rain before qualifying made the track too green and Greg Ray took his fourth pole of the season with a run just under the mark.
At the start, one thing became apparent -- getting the proper line into the corners was absolutely vital. As it happened, the best line was to square the corners with a very high entry and a tight apex, but when two cars got side by side it was impossible for either to stay in the groove, and a bad corner exit had a startlingly negative effect on the driver's position on the following straight. Sam Hornish found this out when he tried to dive underneath Ray in turn 1 and promptly lost two positions on the back stretch. Ray led early but his car was far off on its setup, and in seven laps he lost the lead to Buddy Lazier and starting falling back through the field.
The field remained fairly static until lap 18 when Didier Andre got too high in turn 4 and brushed the wall. Andre was about to get lapped at the time and this resulted in a field jam-up which allowed Sam Hornish to pass B. Lazier for the lead on lap 20. Two laps later a caution was thrown for debris left by Andre's car. A few contending cars chose to go off-sequence and pit here, including Scott Sharp, Robby McGehee, and Airton Dare. The green waved on lap 27 with Hornish leading B. Lazier, Billy Boat (who had qualified his underfunded car very well in 4th), Ray, and Eddie Cheever. After the green Ray went backwards very rapidly, while Donnie Beechler moved up to 5th by lap 34. Jaques Lazier was also on the move and by lap 40 the top-5 was Hornish, B. Lazier, Boat, J. Lazier, and Beechler; on that lap the leaders lapped Ray. Five laps later Cheever took fifth back from Beechler, as the leaders broke up into several packs. Hornish was by himself in the lead, followed a a short distance by B. Lazier and Boat. J. Lazier had driven away from a thick pack containing Cheever, Beechler, Robbie Buhl, Mark Dismore, and Eliseo Salazar; those six would remain in close contact until a later disaster that effected them all.
A debris yellow flew on lap 54. Most of the leaders pitted, with McGehee choosing to stay out. McGehee had gotten lapped due to handling problems, and by staying off sequence he got back on the lead lap. Jeff Ward, who was suffering engine problems, did the same. Sharp, who had pitted under the earlier caution, was able to take a short fuel load and got out ahead of the leaders and also got a lap back. Hornish retained the lead, followed by B. Lazier, Boat, J. Lazier, and Cheever; Beechler lost a number of positions due to a bad pit stop. Dare had a good pit stop and moved up into the second-pack group. The green flew on lap 61 and Hornish again drove away from the field, with B. Lazier establishing an area by himself ahead of the pack led by Boat. J. Lazier passed Boat to take the lead of that pack on lap 74, while Sarah Fisher was in and out of the pits with a severely loose car that even a change of front springs couldn't fix.
On lap 83, Ward blew an engine on the front stretch. He kept the car under control and got it off the track into a safety area in turn 1, but a yellow was necessary for oil. This was a big break for McGehee who was still off-sequence. None of the leaders pitted, and the green waved with Hornish still leading the Lazier brothers, Boat, and Cheever. Back in the pack a bit, Al Unser was moving up from a poor 19th starting position. At lap 100, Hornish had again stretched out a 2-1/2 second lead over B. Lazier, who in turn had a second over his brother holding off Boat for third. Then came the big pack, led by Cheever in fifth, then Beechler, Unser, Dismore, Dare, McGehee, and Buhl, followed at a bit of a distance by Salazar. And that's when it happened: On lap 103, as the big pack moved up on the lapped car of Ray, Cheever in turn 2 inexplicably turned left into the side of Ray's car. The two cars spun slowly and it appeared that they would slide to a stop with no further contact. Unfortunately, Dare for some reason didnt' slow and his left front wheel went over Dismore's right rear, launching his car into Cheever's. Dare's flying car barrel-rolled in the air, fortunately landing back on its wheels just before whacking the outside wall at the turn 2 exit. Unser made contact with Beechler trying to avoid the accident. Unser was out but Beechler had only bodywork damage; after being towed back to the pits, his team effected repairs and he rejoined the race ten laps down. Buhl took a wild ride through the back stretch infield and did a fine job to avoid contact; he continued on but unfortunately the trip through the grass damaged his car's undertray and sidepods. The team attempted repairs, but they eventually retired with a holed radiator resulting from the accident. (Although he didn't realize it at the time, Billy Roe also took debris through the radiator and he too eventually dropped out because of it.)
Fortunately, there were no injuries from any of this action, but the crash took most of the competitive cars out of the race and moved up some cars that were hanging on to the tail end of the lead lap. Salazar temporarily assumed the race lead when the leaders pitted under the caution, as his team chose to wait until the end of the yellow period to pit in order to try to stretch their fuel. The green dropped with B. Lazier leading Boat, Sharp, J. Lazier, Hornish, and McGehee. On the next lap Boat got Lazier pinched down in turn 2 and took the lead on the back stretch. Boat then drove off, deftly working traffic; Sharp couldn't keep up and dropped off of the lead pack as Boat set a fast pace. However, B. Lazier reeled him in as the fuel burned off, and he took back the lead on lap 148. Salazar's fuel strategy went out the window when his engine blew on the next lap. A few laps later, Hornish abruptly slowed; his team reported being on seven cylinders due to a failed fuel injector.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 171 with Boat pitting for service including a front wing adjustment. B. Lazier and Sharp (who was about to be lapped) pitted a lap later, momentarily handing the lead to J. Lazier. McGehee then took the lead for a few laps before pitting and cycling the lead back around. J. Lazier and McGehee both took fuel only for faster stops, and initially the strategy seemed to work as they were as fast on old tires as the others were on new tires. But soon the difference started to tell. B. Lazier rapidly drove away from Boat, who in turn rapidly drove away from the others.
The remainder of the race saw little action due to the attritioned field. B. Lazier drove away from Boat for a fairly easy victory, but the second place finish was a fine result for Boat's low-budget team. Near the end of the race Lazier lapped most of the other lead-lap cars, all of whom seemed to be experiencing problems of one sort or another. The final bit of drama came when Lazier came up to lap his brother, who was running third. Little brother Jaques chopped off Buddy in turn 2 once just to prove the point, and Buddy was never able to put the lap on Jaques. However, perhaps the game went a bit too far: on Jaques' last lap, after Buddy had taken the checkered flag, Jaques spun and crashed in turn 2. The crash didn't cost any positions due to Jaques being the last car on the lead lap, but it was embarassing for the driver and expensive for car owner Sam Schmidt. McGehee got around Sharp a few laps from the end to take fourth, while Hornish soldiered on with his dud engine to finish sixth and hold onto his points lead. Beechler persevered for a tenth-place finish, the last car running at the finish. The nine cars that took the checkered flag tied the IRNLS record for fewest cars running at the finish, last done in 1997. (from IRL Underground)