IRL: Indy Racing drivers ready for Daytona

Big Indy Racing Contingent Ready To Rumble In IROC DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002 - It could be a memorable day Friday for 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier, as he could win a race at Daytona International Speedway and...

Big Indy Racing Contingent Ready To Rumble In IROC

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002 - It could be a memorable day Friday for 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier, as he could win a race at Daytona International Speedway and become a father for the second time - all on the same day.

1996 Indy Racing co-champion Scott Sharp, one of a record five Indy Racing League drivers participating in the True Value International Race of Champions season-opening race Friday at Daytona, will start from the pole in the 40-lap, 100-mile event.

2001 Indy Racing champion Sam Hornish Jr. will start 12th in his first IROC competition and is excited just to be racing. He hopes to use the race as a launching pad for another title run in the Indy Racing League starting with the season-opening 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami on Saturday, March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Al Unser Jr., two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, will take the green flag from sixth place in the 12-car field and definitely will go for broke on the 2.5-mile oval. The thinned-down Unser is working feverishly to come up with a spot on another Indy Racing team after the Galles Racing operation shut down due to lack of funding.

2001 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, competing full time this year in the Indy Racing League with Marlboro Team Penske, will start fourth in his IROC debut.

Lazier and his wife Kara have been expecting their second child for several days and the arrival could be "any second," he said.

"Boy, that would be neat," he said about having the birth and an IROC victory arrive on the same day. "That would be just beautiful."

Lazier, who drives the No. 91 Coors Light Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone in the Indy Racing League, calls participating in IROC a blast. He admits it's more of a difficult step for open-wheel racers because of the drafting and bumping that goes on with the Pontiac Firebirds. Car touching in Indy Racing is an invitation to meet the wall.

"That puts us in a disadvantage," he said.

"It's all about racing camaraderie. There's a tremendous amount of race driver brainpower here, and to be part of that is just a blast. We all take care of one another, we all want to do well for the bragging rights. You don't want to look bad. I'm pleased to be here."

Lazier joked he and his wife thought they had timed the baby's arrival better.

"If I get a phone call, it would be wonderful," he said. "I'm just hoping everything goes well. At the end of the day, I have to be here. Where I live, Colorado, it's a pretty long, strong trip. The thing is, we're testing at Miami right after this.

"I don't have a whole lot of windows until Sunday. It might hold off until then."

Kelley Racing standout Sharp drew the pole position for the IROC event. It puts him in exclusive company - A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ricky Rudd - with those who have started on a pole both at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. Sharp won the MBNA Pole for the 2001 Indianapolis 500.

Sharp comes into the IROC event with a remarkable two-week show of racing versatility.

Two weekends ago, he had a big hand in the Matthews Racing sports-car team finish second in the famed Rolex 24 endurance race on the Daytona road course. Then he participated in the Indy Racing League Test in the West, driving his No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone in preseason testing at Fontana, Calif., and Phoenix. Now, he will be behind the wheel of a stock car.

"They are really three distinctively different situations," he said. "A lot about the 24-hour car was similar to the IRL car from the feel of things, from the steering, same sensitive steering, similar gearbox. But obviously a lot of what I've learned in the IRL about ovals, how you drive ovals, is much more similar to what you're trying to do out here as far as the line.

"Then add a couple thousand pounds, and it gets a lot different. I don't think anything sets you up for IROC. What we've been saying down here is, 'You can't replace years of stock-car driving with a few half-hour practice sessions.' We try our best."

Sharp said it is imperative that Indy Racing League drivers bunch together during the race so they can work against savvy NASCAR stars Sterling Marlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Stewart and Dale Jarrett.

"If we are able to do that, we might be able to hold our own a little bit more," he said. "NASCAR is well noted for them being able to do that."

Sharp will have two NASCAR drivers - Marlin and Harvick - behind him. He doesn't know how long he can hold them off.

"I don't know how long they're going to let me lead up there," he said. "I'll certainly try as hard as I can. Hopefully, Sterling doesn't try to move me out in the first corner.

"I know that probably will happen at some point in the day. The important thing is to jump right back in line, hang in there, draft with some guys and, who knows, make my own sort of run toward the end."

Hornish, the youngest starter at 22, may be at a disadvantage since this is his first experience in a stock car. But he isn't one to accept that he's still a kid in a man's world. He proved that last season when he finished in the top five in 11 of 13 IRL races and easily outdistanced Lazier for the championship.

"I'm really excited coming to the IROC series," he said. "I've had a lot of fun so far. I don't know if I'm doing anything right, but I've had fun."

The True Value IROC series follows with races April 27 at California Speedway, July 13 at Chicagoland Speedway and concludes with IROC at Indy on Aug. 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , IROC
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Johnny Rutherford
Teams Team Penske