Lazier cements series lead with Kentucky win

By winning Sunday's Belterra Resorts 300 Indy Racing Northern Lights Series race at Kentucky Speedway, Buddy Lazier proved its best to be lucky and good

Lazier cements series lead with Kentucky win

As Lazier crossed the start/finish line to begin his final lap, the gearbox broke.

First, he lost fifth gear, but was able to jam it into sixth gear. Shortly thereafter, Lazier lost all the gears and had to coast around the track to the chequered flag.

Lazier was able to win a highly competitive IRL race and the victory may have given him a firm grasp on the season championship.

By becoming the first two-time winner in the IRL this season, he now has a 38-point lead over Scott Goodyear and 41 over Eddie Cheever. It as the fourth career IRL victory for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion.

Lazier defeated Goodyear by 1.879-seconds to win the race in front of an announced crowd of 61,214 fans at Kentucky Speedway.

"The car was jumping out of gear and Scott Goodyear was coming and coming hard," Lazier said. "I needed to make fast, decisive actions at that time. I was able to get that done. It jumped out of gear several times. I was lucky because I was able to get it back in and still keep the forward momentum. You need the motor to pull you through the corner or else you will slip up towards the wall.

"Luckily, it happened so fast and I was able to respond so quick, I didn't think about it. You really don't want it to jump out of gear in the corner because you are in big trouble."

By overcoming the last lap adversity, Lazier was able to earn $126,300 out of a $1,094,000 purse.

Rookie Sarah Fisher finished third, the highest finish ever for a female Indy car driver. Fisher led nine laps in the race.

"I got goosebumps when I was leading the race," Fisher said. "I had pitted out of sequence, and it was great to lead some laps. It was awesome. I had to keep calm because it wasn't the end of the race. It was great to be able to lead a lap because these guys are such great competitors.

"I had a little bit of understeer at the beginning of the race in the middle of the corner. The track really came to me. There weren't many adjustments made to the car. It came in well at the end of the race and I could run flat for the entire race."

Eddie Cheever was fourth followed by Stephan Gregoire.

There was one wicked crash on the second lap when Eliseo Salazar went low on the track with Jeret Schroeder on the inside. Both cars spun and crashed into the second turn wall. Al Unser Jr. tried to avoid the crash and slammed into the second turn wall. He was treated and released from the infield care center with a contusion to his right thigh.

"When Jeret Schroeder spun, he hit the wall and his tire came down on my right front tire," Unser said. "That is when I went into the wall. It was a racing accident and it is a shame because we had a chance at winning the championship. I had a great car for the race and I know my team will work just as hard to give me a good car for Texas. This is tough for everyone, but it happens and we just have to move on."

Said team owner Rick Galles, "We had some bad luck today, but we are just going to move on to the next race at Texas. The important thing to us is that no one was hurt in the accident and that Al is OK. The championship may not still be there, but we can win the race at Texas and that is what we are going to focus on."

Goodyear led the most laps in the race - 64 out of 200.

"We're disappointed in not winning the race," Goodyear said. "We need to do that in order to win the championship. When you finish second and the guy who beats you is the guy leading the championship, it doesn't help a whole lot.

"We had a problem with traffic and it was difficult to keep up. Overall, it was a good day, but we didn't achieve the goal that we set out to do here."

Lazier had a comfortable lead, but with 10 laps remaining, Goodyear began to close in. He narrowed the gap to 0.231-seconds. Lazier was able to pull ahead of Jeff Ward's lapped car and had an open track. Goodyear, however, was unable to get around Ward, and that allowed Lazier to pull away in the final five laps.

"I had a run down on him and I thought he would leave me at least a half-lane, I was already down on the white line," Goodyear said of the apron of the race track. "That took the air away and killed the momentum. It would have been nice if we had a little assistance there."

With just one race remaining in the IRL season, Lazier is in outstanding position to win his first IRL season title, worth $1 million.

"I was leading the championship going into this event, and we had a month to sit around and think about it," Lazier said. "I've had trouble sleeping the last few weeks. We've marched our way to the front. I had to fight all day to get back to the front of the field."

Lazier can clinch his first IRL title if he finishes 13th or better in the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on October 15.

"The truth is, we don't have it won yet," Lazier said. "We could have a problem on the first lap, like at Colorado. By no means do we have this won, but we do have an advantage. It's hard to look forward. Today was a real battle. It was really hard today. You've got to keep your head down.

"You don't want to lose the edge. You can't think you've got it won because then it will be taken away."

The race featured several outstanding battles between some of the IRL's youngest drivers. Sam Hornish started 20th and did not participate in the final practice session because PDM Racing was down to one engine.

After 14 of the first 16 laps were run under caution following the Salazar, Schroeder and Unser crash, Hornish drove through the field to take the lead on the 32nd lap. He led 38 laps in the race before he ran out of fuel and was later penalized on his pit stop. He finished ninth, one lap down.

Jimmy Kite also had an outstanding race, including several laps of memorable side-by-side racing. Kite led 16 laps before his engine blew up on the 155th lap.

But the best side-by-side battle of the race was between Jaques Lazier and Hornish beginning on lap 93. The two drivers raced side by side for seven full laps before Lazier finally took the lead. One lap later, Hornish ran out of fuel, which was the beginning of the end of his fight for the lead.

"Jaques, Sarah, Sam and Jimmy are all very talented all very talented American drivers," Buddy Lazier said. "They're all young drivers that are coming of age.

"I wish they had this series around when I was 18 or 19 years old."

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