Panther Strikes Balance Between Title Run, Driver Search
When it was announced in June that Scott Goodyear and Panther Racing would part company after the 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light season, some may have thought that the team might coast through the second half of the season.
Goodyear and Pennzoil Panther Racing are third in the Northern Light Series point standings entering the inaugural The Belterra Resort Indy 300 at the new Kentucky Speedway on Aug. 27. Goodyear is 33 points behind leader Buddy Lazier and just 10 points behind second-place Eddie Cheever Jr. with two races to go in the season.
"It's like a popular movie not too long ago, it's 'Show me the money,'" said John Barnes, co-owner and team manager of Panther Racing. "There's a lot of money here at stake and a lot of pride. It's great for ourselves and our sponsors. And it'd be great for Scott to go out on a winning note."
Panther Racing was formed in 1998 with Goodyear as its driver, and both scored their first Indy Racing win in the 1999 MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix. Goodyear finished seventh in points in 1998, but fell to ninth in 1999 after leading the point standings after five of the first seven races of the season.
"I think we've always had good equipment underneath him," said Kevin Blanch, crew chief for Panther Racing. "It's just been circumstances that have bit us a lot of times. If you look back over our record over the last three years, we've been in contention to win I believe almost every race we've been in. Maybe luck is a little more on our side this year."
Goodyear and the Panther team have shown the title-winning consistency all year. Goodyear has finished outside of the top 12 only once. He scored a season-best finish of second at the MCI WorldCom 200 in March at Phoenix.
But Panther faces another daunting task during the title stretch. The team is testing drivers to fill Goodyear's seat for next season. So far, Alex Barron, Sam Hornish Jr. and Billy Boat have auditioned for one of the top rides in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series.
"The staff is very focused on Scott and trying to win the championship," said Barnes. "We hired (1985 Indianapolis 500 pole winner) Pancho Carter to come in a help us with that driver search. We're working hard at it, and we have some direction to how we need to go. We have three more guys we want to test, and we'll go from there.
"We want somebody that stands to the measure that Panther Racing stands for, and has the desire to win that all of us have here, and can communicate and has the same work ethic as the people we have."
Panther Racing balances chase for Northern Light Cup, driver search for 2001.
Barron, Boat and Hornish each tested at Kentucky Speedway. Boat will test again for the team Aug. 16 at Kentucky, with Goodyear jumping into the Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone Aug. 17.
"The guys were unbelievably surprised in his talent and his feedback," Barnes said of Boat. "From that we think taking him back there and doing some of the stuff that Andy's (Brown, Panther Racing engineer) got in mind will get us to a quicker resolution of what we want to race there with."
Panther Racing will expand to a two-car effort in 2001, giving the team extra feedback at all 12 races on the schedule, not just before one race like Kentucky.
"You have twice the input," said Blanch. "You can basically have each driver head a different direction whether one goes softer on the springs, one goes stiffer, one may try some shock stuff. So you can kind of run a couple of different packages on both cars and then compare at the end of the evening what he felt may have helped him and what he felt may have hurt him."
Ironically, the test laps completed by Boat, Barron and Hornish could provide Goodyear with quite a benefit during the race later this month at Kentucky.
"By running three different drivers, we basically got three different setups that we ran down there because every driver kind of likes his car a little bit different," said Blanch. "Now when we take Scotty next week, we have three basic packages we can put on the car right away, and we have a direction to head."
That direction could lead straight to the Northern Light Cup after the season-ending race Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway.
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