Monday, August 28, 2000

Lazier wins IRL debut at Speedway




By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA, Ky. — The Indy Racing League was an instant smash at Kentucky Speedway, with a big wreck on the second lap. There were surprise leaders and thrilling duels but also a predictable finish.

RACING WALLPAPER
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(Photos by Craig Ruttle
and Associated Press)
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Buddy Lazier (center) celebrates with runner-up Scott Goodyear and Sarah Fisher, who was third
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Jaques Lazier gets out of his car after his engine caught fire.
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Sarah Fisher
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Al Unser Jr. (top) and Jeret Schroeder crash on the second lap.
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Lazier (third back) looks to pass Jeff Ward and Stephen Gregoire.
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Lazier (top) passes J.J. Yeley.
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        Big names usually win big races, and a former Indianapolis 500 winner rolled into victory lane Sunday afternoon at the Belterra Resort Indy 300.

        Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 champion, beat fellow IRL veteran Scott Goodyear by 1.879 seconds. It was believed to the first Indy-style race in Greater Cincinnati since World War I.

        A crowd of 61,214 attended at the 65,989-seat facility. It was one of the largest crowds in the IRL's five-year history. The league gets over 300,000 fans for the Indy 500 and has drawn 60,000-plus at Texas Motor Speedway, but generally draws poorly elsewhere.

        Lazier, who started seventh, staged a close battle with pole sitter Goodyear down the stretch. Lazier held on despite breaking his gearbox.

        “It's so hard to express my ... I'm just thrilled,” Lazier said.

        One more lap, and it might have been otherwise.

        “I saw that yellow car (Goodyear) coming and coming hard,” Lazier said. “I crossed the finish line and literally broke the gearbox. I swear this has never happened. It's just that I really abused the gearbox getting through traffic, downshift and upshifting.”

        Lazier said the track reminds him somewhat of Indianapolis, home of the hallowed 500-mile race.

        Indy leads Kentucky 84-1 in years of tradition, but Lazier said the relatively flat

        1.5-mile layout has some characteristics of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

        “It gets real flat and slippery during the race, but it's a really challenging track for the drivers,” Lazier said. “It should produce great racing for decades to come.”

        It produced some Sunday:

        • Sarah Fisher, clearly the crowd favorite, finished a season-high third. The 19-year-old rookie from Commercial Point, Ohio, thanked her huge rooting section. “This is awesome, it's like a home track for me.”

        • Al Unser Jr., a two-time Indy 500 winner and biggest name in the field, was caught in the early accident and finished last. It was a four-car crash including Eliseo Salazar, Jeret Schroeder, Scott Sharp and Unser. None of the drivers was seriously hurt.

        • Rookie Sam Hornish Jr. and Lazier's younger brother, Jaques Lazier, staged a mid-race, wheel-to-wheel dogfight for the lead. Hornish led 38 laps and Fisher led nine, marking the first time each led a lap all season. Hornish slipped to ninth place, largely because of a black-flag penalty for jumping a restart.

        • Jimmy Kite, another youngster (24) but already a four-year IRL vet, led 16 laps and seemed ready for his first career win. But Kite blew an engine while leading with 45 laps left. He got out of his car and sat down, head buried in his hands, for several minutes.

        There were nine different leaders in the race, which aside from the early incident ran clean and mostly wide-open.

        Fisher had the crowd on its feet when she took the lead with just 38 laps to go, but she lost it by having to pit nine laps later.

        “I had pitted out of sequence, but it was great to lead some laps,” she said. “I got goose bumps.”

        The hard-luck loser was Goodyear, who led the most laps (64).

        “We came here for first place, so it's a little hard to take,” he said.

        Lazier, who won $126,300 of the $1.094 million purse, remains the 2000 IRL points leader. The 32-year-old Colorado native has now won twice this year and four times in his IRL career.

        Lazier was among several drivers taken by the crowd and the facility. Several mentioned they thought the track was bumpy, but it didn't seem to deter anyone.

        “I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the fans,” Lazier said. “It's just an awesome racetrack.”

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