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Qualifying: Lazier Jr takes pole

Jaques Lazier, the younger brother of defending IRL champion Buddy Lazier, easily won the pole 0n Saturday for Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 in only his second race for Team Menard.

He ran a fast lap of 221.740 miles per hour in a Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.

Lazier has driven for three different IRL teams this season and won a pole for Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Richmond, Virginia in June. Lazier appeared to have found a home with that team, but when team owner John Menard decided to fire 1999 IRL champion Greg Ray, he couldn't refuse the chance to drive for one of the best teams in the series.

"It truly means the world to me," Lazier said. "It's a situation where I've spent five years trying to find a home very similar to what Buddy has, where he is in a situation where they have been together for many years. He knows where he is at every single weekend.

"I found my home. The fact that the funding is there and the resources are there, it's going to allow me to compete for a championship next season. I still want to be the first driver to give John Menard his first Indianapolis 500 win, so we're going to be very focused on that in the off-season. It allows me to just go out there and drive. I just get to be a race driver and focus on racing."

It was the 24th career pole for Team Menard, an IRL record.

"I thought I had a good shot," Lazier continued. "I was still a little hesitant when Eddie Cheever was going out there, but the time really surprised me. A 221.7 was more than I expected. We thought we had a little too much grip in the car so we came back out with a car that was unbelievable. We were able to hold the bottom line and that was the fast way around."

Cheever will start on the outside of the front row after running a lap at 221.105 mph in a Dallara-Infiniti. Earlier this season, Cheever qualified second and won at Kansas Speedway - a track that is virtually identical to Chicagoland Speedway.

"We made a lot of progress from this morning, but the Menard team is always quick when it comes to qualifying," Cheever said. "You can never underestimate them. Our Infiniti 35A was very strong today and technically it was a very good run for us - probably the best qualifying run we've had this year.

"The Infiniti is a great engine to race with and it seems to do pretty well in qualifying. The package that we ran in qualifying is the same that we're going to use in the race, so what you see is what we've got. I will be severely disappointed if we don't win tomorrow. Jaques did a very good job. He came out of nowhere."

Scott Sharp qualified third in a Dallara-Aurora for Kelley Racing at 220.970 mph.

"We put a new engine in last night, but it didn't seem like it had the kick that the one we practised with yesterday," Sharp said. "So we put that one back in the car and went right back up to where we thought we could run and really put a blister lap together for qualifying. It's as good as we have.

"I love this track. I think it's going to prove for a great race tomorrow. We worked on our race car pretty hard yesterday afternoon and were able to utilise the high groove, which is important for traffic. I think we're in good shape. There will be side-by-side racing around here with no problem. You will probably even see some three abreast on the straightaway."

Robbie Buhl, the fastest driver in Friday's practice session, was fourth at 220.631 mph in a G Force-Infiniti followed by Mark Dismore's 220.363 mph in a Dallara-Aurora.

Twenty-five cars will start Sunday's race - the largest starting field since 33 cars started the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend.

And the driver who will lead them to the green flag is Lazier, who is attempting to score his first career IRL win.

"I never thought I would be here," Lazier said. "This is a dream come true for John Menard to give me the call and offer me what I view as the pinnacle ride in the IRL. I'm incredibly proud to be part of Team Menard. We are going to continue this program into next year and hopefully, compete for the championship."

Menard believes he made the right decision when he fired Ray and replaced him with Lazier.

"For sure, I was a genius," Menard said. "Seriously, I think it was very obvious to anybody that watched Jaques has a lot of talent. He probably was not in equipment that showcased that talent as well as it could be. I was very fortunate that Jaques agreed to drive and join our team. Our team is very happy with Jaques. We've had one race together and this will be the second one. We are both looking forward to a long and successful relationship.

"It as tough to let Greg go. I'm friends with Greg, I like Greg and respect Greg. He's a great human being. For whatever reason, our chemistry was not as good as it could be on the team. We had to make changes because our sponsors demand that we look better than what we were looking. Hopefully, we'll get our act together going forward."

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