Qualifying: 'Other' Lazier takes pole

Jacques Lazier went from being out of a ride to the pole position for Saturday night's SunTrust Challenge at Richmond International Raceway.

Qualifying: 'Other' Lazier takes pole

Lazier, who was out of an Indy Racing League drive at Team Xtreme following the Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak two weeks ago, won the pole on Friday afternoon with a lap at 160.417mph for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in a Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora.

Schmidt, who was paralysed from the neck down when he crashed at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000, scored his first pole as an IRL team owner.

"I'm still kind of shocked," said Lazier, the younger brother of defending IRL champion Buddy Lazier. "This is everything I've dreamt about

"We've been working on our race setup the entire week and we were so confident with it that we decided to set it up fast. I knew we could do this, but it was still a surprise. I think it will be crucial to start up front Saturday night. It will be difficult to pass and the further you can start up front, maybe you can stay out of trouble."

While Lazier was the hero for winning the pole, some may have viewed him as the villain after knocking 20-year-old Sarah Fisher off the top spot. Fisher was on the pole with a lap at 159.891 mph in a Dallara-Oldsmobile Aurora just a day after a practice accident had put her in the medical centre.

Eddie Cheever was the third quickest at 159.202 mph in a Dallara-Infiniti, followed by Buddy Lazier's 159.199 in a Dallara-Aurora and Airton Dare's 158.772 mph in a G Force-Aurora.

Lazier's previous top qualifying effort was 10th last year at Kentucky Speedway.

Schmidt began his team in February of this year after he drew inspiration from Formula 1 team owner Frank Williams, who is also a quadriplegic. He hired Davey Hamilton as his driver, but Hamilton suffered severe injuries to both feet and legs in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway in the June 9 Casino Magic 500.

Richie Hearn drove Schmidt's car at Pikes Peak International Raceway on June 17, where he finished ninth. Schmidt grappled with the decision whether to keep Hearn as his driver for Saturday night's first IRL race at a race track under one-mile in length. In the end, he decided to give Lazier a chance and it paid off with the first pole of his career.

"This is almost as good as doing it yourself," Schmidt said. "This is the second-best deal. Jacques did a hell of a job. If we can win this won Saturday night, it will be all for Davey."

Fisher's second-place effort came just one day after she crashed in practice and suffered neck pain that sent her to the hospital for a quick examination. On Friday, she became a pain in the neck to the other drivers attempting to qualify for the race with the best qualification effort of her IRL career.

"It was a great comeback," Fisher said. "Walker Racing did a tremendous job after yesterday. We had a little spin in turn 2 and they did an excellent job putting the car together and giving me an even better car. This is a short track and that is where I was raised as a racer, on the short tracks of America.

"Jacques is definitely the hero, not the villain. He is a very clean race car driver and it's great to see fellow drivers who give you the respect do well, whether they beat you out of a pole or out of a race."

Nineteen cars took qualification speeds. Billy Boat crashed on his qualification attempt and will start 20th. Greg Ray crashed earlier in the day during practice and was not cleared to qualify after experiencing back pain. He will be re-evaluated by Dr Bock on Saturday before a determination is made whether he can start Saturday night's race.

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