Should Unser end up in NASCAR, he says, he will insist that his contract allow him to race in the Indy 500, the crown jewel of the IRL's 11-race schedule. His father, Al Unser Sr., won the Indy 500 four times, and his uncle Bobby won it three times. Al Jr. won the race in his last appearance there, in 1994, but failed to qualify in 1995 and has sat out the past four years because of CART's ongoing feud with the IRL. "I've been away from it too long," Al Jr. says.
CART's Texaco Grand Prix
Houston, We Have a Problem
A funny thing happened to team owner Chip Ganassi in Sunday's Texaco Grand Prix of Houston. Just when he seemed to be on the blink of clinching a record fourth consecutive CART season championship, Ganassi neglected to tell his driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, where a wrecked car was sitting around one of the blind comers on the downtown street circuit. Montoya, leading on Lap 13 of a scheduled 100, plowed into the wreckage and damaged Ganassi's Reynard- Honda too badly to continue. Team Green's Dario Franchitti scrambled back from early handling problems to finish second to teammate Paul Tracy and cut Montoya's points lead from 29 to 13—easy shooting distance with two races remaining. (A driver can gain as many as 22 points on an opponent in one race.)
On serpentine street circuits, where high temporary walls limit vision, drivers depend heavily on spotters out on the track and TV monitors in the pits. "Maybe Chip was looking at his reflection in the monitor," cracked Tracy, who delighted in the debacle.
Montoya, 23, has been CART's dominant driver this year, with seven wins. He started the race on the pole, needing only 15 points to clinch another title for Ganassi, who had won in 1996 with Jimmy Vasser driving and in '97 and '98 with Alex Zanardi. Montoya's day was going fine as he led the first 12 laps, but Helio Castro-Neves spun out on the 10th corner of the circuit, bringing out a full-course caution. Ganassi says that in the ensuing radio conversation he told Montoya," 'Full yellow, full yellow!' Juan said, 'O.K.' We said, 'Slow down, stay out' He said, 'O.K.' Then he said, 'F—! I just crashed.' "
Montoya called it miscommunication. "It's happened before, and it'll happen again," he said, blasting Ganassi. "Nobody told me anything was there. I saw a yellow flag, and they yelled, 'Full course yellow!' Chip told me to stay out. He didn't say, 'Watch the cars' He didn't say anything else. I backed off, came around, and there was a car blocking the middle of the racetrack."
After Montoya fell out, Tracy dominated tire race, leading all but three of the last 88 laps and winning by a comfortable 13.733-second margin over Franchitti.
Calling It Like It Is
Ned Jarrett's In a Tough Spot
Broadcaster Ned Jarrett, whose play-by-play account of his son Dale's first Daytona 500 win, in 1993, was one of the memorable moments in CBS's 20 years of telecasting the race, says he now faces a tougher assignment. He's scheduled to provide color commentary for three of the last seven Winston Cup races of the season, a stretch during which Dale could clinch his first Winston Cup title. Heading into this week's race at Martinsville, Va.—one of the three Ned will call—Dale holds a commanding 257-point lead over Mark Martin.
"If Dale goes into the final race and has to finish in a certain spot to lock up the championship, it's going to be nerve-racking," says Ned, who won NASCAR championships in 1961 and '65 and will be working that season finale at Atlanta on Nov. 21.