Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1999 | 2:15 a.m.
FORT WORTH, Texas - Eddie Cheever Jr. will attempt to engineer Indy Racing League history for a second time this weekend.
Cheever is the only driver scheduled to compete with the Nissan Infiniti Indy V-8 during the season-ending Mall.com 500-kilometer race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. Since the IRL introduced its normally aspirated, 4.0-liter engine program in January 1997, Oldsmobile Aurora V-8-powered cars have run the table. Auroras have captured 28 poles, set 28 fastest laps of the race and scored 28 victories.
Cheever was a three-time winner with the Aurora when he switched to the Infiniti two races into the 1999 schedule, and after a victory in the season opener at Orlando, Fla.
"We were the first to win with the Olds engine," said Cheever, who captured the 1997 season opener, also at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando. "I have gambled our whole company on Infiniti's ability to deliver a winning package. I will win with this engine, soon."
The IRL cars have three hours of practice scheduled in two sessions on Friday afternoon. Qualifying is set for noon Saturday.
Cheever's best qualifying effort this season was the fifth-place run he made at TMS in June, when he hot-lapped the 1.5-mile quad-oval at 213.430 mph. Cheever also led 13 laps at TMS before an electrical problem relegated him to a 16th-place finish.
But the Infiniti program has made noticeable performance gains this summer. Cheever led twice for 32 laps in the most recent IRL race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 26.
"We've done a lot of work to catch up with the GM package," Cheever said. "The biggest change is we'll have the new 3.5-liter configuration next year, and a good 60 percent of Infiniti's effort over the last four months has been to that 3.5-liter engine."
Cheever's three victories with the Olds include the 1998 Indianapolis 500. But even claiming that jewel did not dissuade his decision to switch.
"I believe in gambling," said Cheever, owner/driver of the No. 51 The Children's Beverage Group Dallara. "As a team owner, I have to look at what we're doing two or three years from now. The fact we have not won since Orlando is not Infiniti's fault. I do believe it is going to be the engine of 2000." 1/4 Nsubheds:Paul entered at TMS John Paul Jr., winner of the IRL race at TMS last September, will return to the series for the season-ending Mall.com 500.
Paul will drive the No. 30 Big Daddy's BBQ Beef Jerky G Force/Aurora fielded by McCormack Motorsports. Paul competed in the first two races of the season with Jonathan Byrd-Cunningham Racing. But the team suspended operations after being involved in the tragedy-marred event at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on May 1. 1/4 Nsubheds:Cup schedule released The flip-flopping of spring race weekends between Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway is the lone significant change in the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule.
The Cup series will compete on the half-mile, high-banked Bristol track on March 26 and then head to TMS on April 2. The Cup series ran in Fort Worth on March 28 this year, on a damp weekend.
The 2000 schedule again will feature 34 races, beginning with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20. The schedule, which again includes road races at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, will conclude at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Nov. 19. nn