IRL: Texas race summary

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2000 - In a day of intense, close racing, Buddy Lazier clinched his first Northern Light Cup and Scott Goodyear earned a thrilling victory on Oct. 15 in the Excite 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. ...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2000 - In a day of intense, close racing, Buddy Lazier clinched his first Northern Light Cup and Scott Goodyear earned a thrilling victory on Oct. 15 in the Excite 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Lazier finished fourth to clinch the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship and a $1 million bonus from series sponsor Northern Light. He has driven for Hemelgarn Racing since the series started in 1996. "We're just thrilled," Lazier said. "We had a great day today. This has been a long time coming. This team has been fighting hard for several years. "This is the culmination of a lot of hard years of work." Goodyear passed Cheever in Turn 3 on the 208th and last lap to score a victory in the Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone by .140 of a second over Eddie Cheever Jr. in the season finale. It was Goodyear's first victory of the season in his final race driving for Pennzoil Panther Racing. The team announced earlier Sunday that Sam Hornish Jr. will step into the car in 2001. "The car was better as the tires wore," Goodyear said. "It was really close to the end and how we battled all year. I'm really happy for the guys at Panther Racing. They worked hard, and it paid off." Billy Boat finished third, only .245 of a second behind Goodyear. Lazier was fourth in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, .701 of a second behind the winner. "What a hair-raising way to win a racing championship, in a pack of cars going wheel to wheel," Lazier said. Goodyear averaged 175.276 mph and picked up a winner's check of $123,700. Lazier collected a purse of $56,100, to bring his season race earnings to $1,176,200. He'll add another $1 million at the Indy Racing Northern Light Series postseason awards ceremony on Nov. 11 in Indianapolis. 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier, from Vail, Colo., actually clinched the title on Lap 181 as attrition made it impossible for him to finish low enough for contenders Goodyear and Cheever to overtake him in the Northern Light Cup standings. In the final standings, Lazier led with 290 points. Goodyear, who has a standing offer to drive for Cheever next season at age 41, was second with 272 points. 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever finished third in the points with 257. "The guy turns into a killer," said Cheever of the normally mild-mannered Lazier, whose victories at Phoenix and Kentucky propelled him to the championship. "I love to race with him. He's a deserving champion." Lazier even expressed disappointment that he didn't win the race. He said he had a car capable of victory. When he had clinched, he asked on the radio, "You mean, if I come back with no wheels, we still win the championship?" "This is as big as winning the Indianapolis 500," Lazier said. "It is great to have my family here with me. The Indy Racing League has been good to me. I'm so happy to be out there. It's great." For Goodyear, the race victory following a pole and win at Kentucky may be the just the impetus he needs to continue racing in the Northern Light Series next season. "I feel great," shouted Goodyear after pulling into Victory Lane. "The guys did a great job. I knew Buddy would have to come in late for fuel so I thought it would be a dice between me and Eddie. It was a great battle. I also congratulate Buddy. He's a great champion." Lazier has come a long way with the Ron Hemelgarn-owned team since he passed his Indianapolis 500 driver's test in a Hemelgarn car in 1990 but was bumped out of the field on the last day. His best previous finish in the Indy Racing League championship standings was fifth in 1998. "Anytime you win a championship of anything it just says what it is, you're the champion," said Hemelgarn, who started his race team in 1984 after becoming a sponsor in 1978. "You've been paid back for a lot of hard work, a lot of determination, a lot of drive. My guys, Buddy, they've just worked so hard to get to this level. There've been a lot of ups and downs. To win a championship, it's very exciting. It's like winning the Indy 500. There's no way to describe it. There's no way you can put your emotions in words to what it feels like to be the best of the best." An equally happy man was Lazier's father Bob, who drove to 19th in the 1981 Indianapolis 500. Not only did his older son win the title, his younger son, Jaques, drove to 10th place in the race. "No question, I'm enjoying every minute of this," Bob Lazier said. The race finish, which beat rain by only three minutes, was the climax to a titanic duel. Goodyear, Cheever and Lazier were part of a big group of drivers that duked it out for 312 miles. Others included Boat, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., 2000 RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year Airton Dare, Jeff Ward and Robbie Buhl. Unser led the most laps, 99, and was a stern challenger until his clutch went out on Lap 155. Lazier led laps 157-194 before needing to pit on Lap 195 for a splash of fuel during a caution period. Cheever and Goodyear, with Boat right on their tail, stormed into the final lap with any of the three capable of grabbing the checkered flag. "One lap from the end, I thought it was a blood feud out there," Cheever said. "Nobody was drafting. "Scott proved today he is a phenomenal driver with a lot of talent. He would be a great loss to the IRL. I did offer him (a ride for next year), but he wasn't thinking about that today. If he had he wouldn't have gone by me." Goodyear said he tried everything to get by Cheever. "We went high, we went low," Goodyear said. "It was really wheel-to-wheel. It's nice to go wheel-to-wheel with someone you know you can trust. I know this had to be great for the fans." Said Cheever, driver of the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone: "Those last laps with Scott you couldn't have separated us by 3 inches. The racing was phenomenal." Boat, who came from 22nd to third, thanked Panther Racing and team manager John Barnes for helping assemble his Team Pelfrey Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "The only thing he said was, 'Don't pass him (Goodyear),'" Boat said. "At the end, I would have passed him." Dare, who raced as high as second for TeamXtreme Racing, wound up 12th but gained enough points to edge Jeret Schroeder for the RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year Award. Dare finished with 142 points, while Schroeder had 136. Sarah Fisher, who finished 11th Sunday, was third with 124 points. Pole sitter Greg Ray fell back from the start and lasted only 18 laps due to an electrical problem. When rookie Zak Morioka hit the wall on Lap 188, it ended a remarkable string of 401 consecutive laps by Northern Light Series cars at Texas Motor Speedway this season without an accident despite constant wheel-to-wheel racing. The combined margin of victory in 624 miles of Indy Racing this season at Texas was .199 of a second. Rounding out the top 10 in the standings behind Lazier, Goodyear and Cheever were: Eliseo Salazar, 210; Mark Dismore and Donnie Beechler, 202; Scott Sharp, 196; Buhl, 190; Unser, 188, and Boat, 181. The sixth Indy Racing Northern Light Series season will begin March 18, 2001 in Phoenix. There will be 13 races in a schedule that will again end at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Mark Dismore , Jeret Schroeder , Donnie Beechler , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing