INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Jeff Ward's first start in the Indianapolis 500 will begin from the inside of the third row, one row ahead of his boss.

``He's done a wonderful job. He's a professional,'' team owner-driver Eddie Cheever said. ``It's going to be hard to take the rookie of the year award away from him.''

Ward accounted for the first of 11 crashes during practice or qualifications for Sunday's race. He wasn't hurt and put his car into the lineup on the first day of qualifications with a four-lap average of 214.517 mph. Cheever qualified an identical G Force-Aurora at 214.073.

``Unfortunately, we didn't run in the beginning of the week and that hurt us. I made a bad decision. I loosened up my car a lot. I also had a problem with my gearbox,'' Cheever said.

Ward first passed his Indy rookie test in 1995 but failed to qualify.

He drove the Indy Lights series from 1993 to 1996 and made his Indy Racing League debut at Orlando in January in place of injured Davy Jones.

He started eighth and finished 16th with a gearbox problem, but impressed Cheever.

``I knew that they had ideas to run a second car for Indy,'' Ward said. ``I knew a couple guys on the team, and I knew I wanted to be with a top team. I didn't want to be at Indy and not have a chance to win the race.

``Eddie's great every day,'' Ward said. ``He sits me down and talks with me. I want to go fast and he tells me to take it one turn at a time.''

Among the 12 other rookies, the only one starting closer to the front than Ward is Vincenzo Sospiri, whose 216.822 average put him on the outside of the first row, next to pole-winner Arie Luyendyk and Tony Stewart.


NEW INDY STARTER: Another rookie ``starter'' on Sunday is Bryan Howard, who will be standing high above the track, flags at his side.

The race won't begin until he waves the green, and it won't end until the checkered flag is unfurled.

Howard, a former assistant starter, was elevated to chief starter this year, succeeding Duane Sweeney.

The man who will tell Howard when to begin the race is Keith Ward, the chief steward.

Ward last year succeeded Tom Binford, who was chief steward for a record 22 years before stepping down to become commissioner of the IRL.

Serving under Ward are senior steward Art Meyers; stewards Rich Coy and John Notte III; steward and chief registrar Bob Cassaday; technical director Mike Devin; deputy technical directors Mark Bridges, Jerry Grobe and Dennis Hunley; timing and scoring director Art Graham; director of scoring operations Les Kimbrell; and Howard.


FASHION SHOW: The 16th annual Indy 500 fashion show will be held Friday, following a luncheon at the Westin Hotel.

The program is sponsored by Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary, an organization of wives, girlfriends and other women associated with the sport.

Since its inception in 1981, CARA has raised more than $650,000 for various charities. Laura George, wife of Speedway president Tony George, is the honorary chairwoman.