Lazier leads wire-to-wire; IRL drivers take five of top six spots. JOLIET, Ill., Saturday, July 13, 2002 -- 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier led all 67 laps, and IRL drivers swept the top three spots and five of the top six...
Lazier leads wire-to-wire; IRL drivers take five of top six spots.
JOLIET, Ill., Saturday, July 13, 2002 -- 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier led all 67 laps, and IRL drivers swept the top three spots and five of the top six positions in Round 3 of the True Value International Race of Champions XXVI on July 13 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, started on the pole and never looked back in the caution-free race, winning by 5.195 seconds. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. finished second, while fellow two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves came home third. NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick was fourth, while 1996 IRL co-champion Scott Sharp came home fifth, and defending Indy Racing champion Sam Hornish Jr. was sixth.
"I'm still kind of in a state of shock," Lazier said. "I still can't believe it. Starting up front, I had the feeling that it was going to be a big advantage to have clean air. I had it in the back of my mind to really hammer down hard at the beginning when I had clean air with the hope of keeping the lead for a while."
Castroneves moved from his third starting spot and into second place on the opening lap and held the position until Unser made it past him on Lap 61. While running second, Castroneves never could quite challenge Lazier.
"It seems like he didn't have to waste any energy to protect his position," Castroneves said. "I was never able to attack him. It gave him a great opportunity for a Sunday drive."
Unser used lapped traffic to pass Castroneves for second.
"We were trying to catch everybody in front of us, but as soon as I'd get up underneath somebody or Castroneves, my front end would wash out," Unser said. "We came across the lapped traffic there. I don't know who it was in the silver car (Harvick), but he caught Helio on the outside going through (Turns) 3 and 4, and that gave us enough momentum to make a run and came in second."
Sharp and Hornish were running fifth and sixth, respectively, by Lap 17 and never moved from those positions after starting fifth and seventh, respectively.
"I moved up one spot from where I started so that was good," Hornish said. "The car pushed from the beginning. I never found anybody after the 15th lap. The IRL drivers did a very good job today."
The last time Indy-style drivers swept the top three positions in True Value IROC competition was 1996 at Talladega Superspeedway when Unser held of Robby Gordon and Scott Pruett.
Lazier also became the first driver to lead every lap of an IROC race since Mark Martin in 1996 at Charlotte.
"I think it's a testament to us having an off week," Lazier said. "A lot of the drivers like myself were down here practicing. We put in a lot of hours."
It was Lazier's first career IROC victory and the first IROC win by an open-wheel driver since Eddie Cheever Jr. won in June 2000 at Michigan.
"It was good for the Indy Racing League and open-wheel racing," Sharp said. "Buddy got out front and stayed there. He did a great job."
The finish sets up a showdown for the title at the season finale Aug. 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with nearly every driver in the 12-driver field eligible for the championship.
Perhaps it was Castroneves who summed it up the best on the Indy Racing League's banner day.
"I guess we rock," he said.