David Reininger – motorsport.com
Lebanon, Tenn. (July 21, 2001) – Buddy Lazier earned his third win of the season, claiming victory in the Harrah’s Indy 200 in front of a sold out crowd of over 35,000 at the Nashville Superspeedway. Lazier’s mid-season charge in the battle for the championship, where he has won three of the last four races, has enabled the Vail, Colo. driver to narrow Sam Hornish’s points lead to 40.
“My crew did a spectacular job on the Hemelgarn Tae Bo/Coors Light car,” said Lazier. “This track is real slippery, it’s hard to get a handle on and I’ve had the flu the whole time. A lot of times, when the driver isn’t too good, the team has to really step it up. They knew I wasn’t feeling right so they had to help me out and give me a really good car.”
“After Thursday’s practice, I knew we had the winning car,” said Ron Hemelgarn, Lazier’s team owner. “I told Buddy we had a car we could win with, there was no question in my mind. It was a little slick out there, but I think that is where Buddy’s talent shines.”
Lazier now heads to the Kentucky Speedway, where he is the defending champion, holding the Indy Racing League record for career victories with seven.
Billy Boat finished second after losing the lead to Lazier in traffic with 52 laps remaining. “It’s easy to get caught in traffic,” said Boat, who led for 26 laps. “We got caught out behind two lapped cars. We were leading and Buddy got by us, and it’s just tough to pass. We really didn’t get the breaks we needed in traffic.”
Buddy Lazier’s younger brother Jaques finished third, giving Sam Schmidt Motorsports their best finish this season. Despite struggling financially, Lazier has given the team a pole position at Richmond and tonight, their first podium.
With less than a lap to the checkered flag, Lazier’s third place run ended with his car hitting the turn two wall after flat tire sent the car into a spin
“We’ve had to repair a lot of cars this year,” said team owner Sam Schmidt, “but tonight, the crew will be happy to repair this one.”
Lazier was uninjured in the crash.
Sam Hornish, who won the first two races of the season and still leads the championship point standings, finished sixth, two laps down. Hornish led twice for a total of 86 laps before engine problems forced the 22 year old driver to run off the pace to salvage 30 championship points.
“We were better in traffic and had a faster car, but we just didn’t have any luck,” said Hornish. “We had a problem with the fuel injector. It’s the second injector that’s gone bad on us this year. It wasn’t something that would keep us from finishing, but when you go from 199 mph to 187, people are going to start passing you in a hurry.
“We’re still leading the points, but we would like to be a lot farther ahead.”
With his fifth place finish, Scott Sharp moved from fifth to third in the points and now trails second place Lazier by 55 points (299-244).
Just past the mid-point of the race, a six car crash occurred involving Eddie Cheever, Al Unser Jr, Mark Dismore, Donnie Beechler, Airton Dare and Greg Ray. All but Ray had been running competitively in the top 10 at the time.
“I was racing Beechler,” said Cheever, who was classified 15th after the wreck ended his night. “I had to take the high side as I was lapping Ray for the third time. We touched.
“Having looked at the replay, there was room for him to go lower and room for me to go higher. It’s always the car that’s passing that has to take responsibility, but I sure wish he had either let me pass on the straightaway or had kept on the bottom line.”
The collision between Ray and Cheever collected Beechler first, then Unser. Dismore slowed to avoid the wreck but was rammed from behind by Dare who then ricocheted off the wall in a ball of fire before making contact with Cheever’s car.
“The accident came out of nowhere,” said Dare. “I saw a mess in front of me and tried to get out of the way. The next thing I know, I was in the air. There were things flying all around me and on top of the car.”
Notes from the Harrah’s Indy 200 at the Nashville Superspeedway:
Robbie McGehee finished fourth despite driving with a broken leg suffered in an accident at Texas in June. McGehee, who turned 28 yesterday, said, “My leg doesn’t hurt at all. I felt it when I had to use the clutch, but really, it was fine.”
The team prepared McGehee’s Dallara Oldsmobile with a special master cylinder which allowed the clutch to be operated with a softer touch.
Scott Goodyear attended his first Indy Racing Northern Light Series race since breaking his back at the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. Goodyear observed the race from the Team Cheever pits.