Originally created 05/26/01

Hearn on standby for Indy 500 shot

INDIANAPOLIS - Nobody in Indianapolis is studying the weather forecast for Sunday more closely than Richie Hearn.

"I've got my rain dance down," said Hearn, who won't race unless there is a delay either before or during the Indy 500.

He will be standing by in case Tony Stewart's bid to race at Indy and in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later in the day in Concord, N.C., runs into a hitch - most likely from wet weather here.

Stewart pulled off the unique double in 1999, finishing ninth in the 500 and charging to a fourth-place in the stock car race after barely making the start. This one could be tougher, with the green flag for the NASCAR event moved up by a half hour.

Stewart, who is tied for seventh in the Winston Cup standings, needs to start the NASCAR race in his Joe Gibbs Pontiac or he will give up the championship points for the race to Mike McLoughlin, standing by at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The 30-year-old Hearn, who hasn't raced since finishing 27th in last May's Indy classic, isn't concerned about Stewart's situation. He just wants to be in the 500.

"I'm going about it like I'm going to race," Hearn said Friday. "The car is going to be set up for Tony and I'm going to accommodate myself to that set-up.

"It's a fast car and Tony doesn't like any wacky set-up. It would take me the first 20 laps, 50 miles or so, to get up to speed. But I'm not really concerned. It's not a 100-mile race; it's 500 miles."

Mike Hull, team manager for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which has four cars in the 33-car Indy field, said he has complete confidence in Hearn, who won an Indy Racing League event in Las Vegas in September 1996, and has also raced in the rival CART series.

Still, he called Sunday's uncertainty "fly-by-wire."

"Our hopes and our plans are that Tony Stewart starts and completes the race," said Hull, whose team won here last year with Juan Montoya.

"We're prepared for Richie to sit in the car and he will be involved in our race planning and engineering meetings Saturday morning," he added. "If at some point in time we need him, we'll all be prepared. It's pretty easy because of his experience and the type of race driver he is."

Even weather forecasters weren't sure about Sunday, with one calling for a 30 percent chance of rain, mostly in the morning and later in the afternoon, and another for scattered showers throughout the day.

With the start set for 11 a.m. local time, Hearn said, "If it's raining at 10:30, I'll probably get to race because it takes about two and a half hours to dry this track."

In the event of a delay after the race begins, Stewart would likely have to leave. Stewart has promised Gibbs he will get out of the car in time to be in Concord on schedule, even if he is leading or still has a good chance to win.

Until Hull called, his only opportunity came last Sunday, the final day of qualifying, when Hearn stepped into a backup car.

"I only ran about 20 practice laps and I tried to qualify it, but we just ran out of time," said Hearn, who needed four laps over 221 mph to make the race and only made it above 220.


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