By David Reininger - motorsport.com
JOLIET, Ill. (September 1, 2001) - When Greg Ray abdicated the pole king's throne at Team Menard, it was only a matter of time before his successor, Jaques Lazier, would put the Johns Manville car atop the qualifying chart.
Lazier, whose coronation at Team Menard was held less than two weeks ago, will start from the pole position in Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Team Menard's string of 24 pole positions, a record in Indy Racing League competition, started under the rule of Tony Stewart.
Stewart's three-year reign at Team Menard produced nine poles. When Stewart moved on to conquer new territory, Greg Ray assumed the throne, posting 14 poles, which still stands as an IRL record. Actually, the record is thirteen, but Ray has started from the pole 14 times. He earned a pole based on points when qualifying was washed out at Orlando last year.
Now Jaques Lazier, in just his second race with Team Menard, ascends the throne after posting a lap around the 1.5-mile superspeedway at 221.740 mph (24.6776 seconds).
Despite practicing at speeds over 222 mph, Eddie Cheever will start second after recording a qualifying lap at 221.105 mph (24.7484). "Never underestimate Team Menard when it comes to qualifying, especially on a mile-and-a-half ovals and Indy," Cheever said.
After watching Cheever run 222.736 mph this morning, John Menard figured his team wouldn't have a chance at the pole. Menard bet Cheever $100 that he would easily put his Cheever Indy Racing Infiniti on the pole. Cheever accepted the wager. Once qualifying was completed, he was seen on pit road collecting his winnings.
Cheever now faces 200 laps of grueling competition on a track where most of the competitors have been working all weekend on race day setups.
"What we had to show, what we had to qualify with, is what we have for the race," Cheever said. "We don't have anymore or any less. That's what we got."
What Cheever might not realize is the top eight cars, all of which qualified within a half a second, have it too.
Scott Sharp and Robbie Buhl, who will start side by side on the second row, both did extensive work on their race day setup this weekend. While many teams try to record a "PR" lap to get their names atop the day's speed charts, and hence, in the news, more teams are focusing on the win this weekend. After all, with one IRL race remaining after Sunday's Delphi Indy 300, it's all about winning now.
Sam Hornish, driver of the Pennzoil Panther Dallara, needs to increase his lead over Buddy Lazier by 8 points on Sunday to seal the 2001 championship. Given his position in the points, Sam's approach to this weekend may be different than most drivers.
For everyone else, it's all about going for the win.