April 23 in Motorsports History: Cheever out of fuel; Fittipaldi wins

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Twenty-five years ago today, a disappointing afternoon for Eddie Cheever Jr. turned into a great one for Emerson Fittipaldi.

With fuel milage coming into play late in the 1995 Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth Speedway, Cheever made a gamble by staying out of the pits after his final stop on Lap 106 of 200.

Cheever inherited the lead on Lap 161. With the help of two cautions for separate crashes by Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran, it seemed he would have enough fuel to make it to the finish.

Driving the famous No. 14 car, Cheever looked to give A.J. Foyt Racing its first victory since Foyt won at Pocono in 1981. However, Cheever’s luck – and fuel – ran dry with less than two laps remaining.

As Cheever’s car slowed on the backstretch on Lap 198, Fittipaldi passed him on the outside to inherit the lead.

Fittipaldi held off a charge from Jacques Villeneuve to score his 22nd and final CART victory.

“I had four aces in my hand, and at right at the last minute that ace turned into a 2,” Cheever told CBS after the race. “My computer said I had 4.5 gallons on board, which was more than enough. I think something must have gone wrong inside of the tank.”

While he didn’t win that afternoon, Cheever eventually would find success in open-wheel racing. The CART and Formula One veteran moved to the Indy Racing Leauge the following season and picked up his first victory at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1997. In 1998, Cheever won the 82nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Also on this date:

2003: Though retired for nearly a decade, Mario Andretti went on one of the wildest rides of his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Helping his son Michael’s team shake down a car, Mario hit a piece of debris, and the car cartwheeled through the air before landing on its wheels. Andretti, who had turned 63 two months earlier, walked away with only a cut on his chin.

2018: Josef Newgarden led all but nine laps in his dominant performance at Barber Motorsports Park, his third victory in four seasons at the Alabama road course.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”