IRL: Cheever, B. Lazier ready for another exciting chapter of rivalry at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2000 - Eddie Cheever Jr. has battled with Buddy Lazier in each of his 41 career Indy Racing starts since the series’ first race on Jan. 27, 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway. Thus it seems...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2000 - Eddie Cheever Jr. has battled with Buddy Lazier in each of his 41 career Indy Racing starts since the series’ first race on Jan. 27, 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway. Thus it seems appropriate that when the final race of this Indy Racing Northern Light Series season takes place on Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway, Lazier and Cheever are two of the three drivers still in contention for the Northern Light Cup. Lazier leads the standings with 258 points, and Cheever is third with 217. In between with 220 points is Scott Goodyear, who joined the league part of the way through its second season. An indication of the skills of these three drivers is that Lazier won the Indianapolis 500 in 1996, Cheever in 1998 (by 3.919 seconds over Lazier) and Goodyear finished second both in 1992 (by .043 of a second) and 1997 (by .570 of a second). Lazier, of course, is in an envious position since he needs to finish only 13th or higher to clinch his first Northern Light Cup and the $1 million payoff that goes with it. He drives the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Cheever knows the only control he has over the outcome of the title chase is to run hard and run the distance in the Excite 500. The race has extra significance for him, as he drives the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti Firestone. “My mindset is really just one of making sure that we finish,” he said. “I think we’ve had a great season so far. We’ve done everything we can to win the championship, but it’s not really in our hands. A lot of it depends on how (other) teams do, as do all the races. To win the championship, Cheever not only has to finish many positions in front of Lazier, he also cannot allow Goodyear’s Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone machine to place in front of him, either. Over the five seasons in Indy Racing League history, the statistics of Cheever and Lazier have been very close. Each has won four races. Both missed the league’s second race at Phoenix in 1996, but have competed in 40 consecutive since for a total of 41 of 42 events in league history. Only Davey Hamilton, who has driven in every race, has more starts. Lazier has completed 6,580 laps, Cheever 6,506. Lazier has been running at the finish 25 times, Cheever 24. Lazier has won only two poles, but Cheever has yet to be the fastest qualifier. In laps led, Lazier is tops, 545-352. Lazier has the edge in career championship points scored, 1,112-1,038. “I’ve always enjoyed racing against Buddy,” Cheever said. “He is one of those competitors that if I were to describe Buddy, I would say he’s like a bulldog that gets hold of a ball and you almost have to take it to make sure he doesn’t bite you. He’s extremely competitive. “And he’s very difficult to defend against in traffic and very hard to pass, because he is willing to take a lot of risk. He’s also willing to make sure when he positions his car he makes you take the most difficult line, which is something that is very hard to guard against.” Cheever noted that he and Lazier have raced wheel-to-wheel against each other since the season opener back in January when Robbie Buhl slipped by both of them at the finish to win at the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway. In the most recent race, The Belterra Resort Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway, Lazier won for the second time this season. Cheever finished fourth. “I think it’s only right that it would come down to Buddy and I being in that leading pack for the last race,” Cheever said. “He’s a really tough competitor, and I do enjoy racing against him.” Both drivers started the season driving Riley & Scott chassis. Cheever switched to a Dallara after the opener, but Lazier stuck with the Riley & Scott and then drove from last place to a victory in the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix with a scintillating performance. Thus, Lazier had a second and first with the R&S chassis, but then the series moved to the 1½-mile track at Las Vegas, and a fuel pump problem sidelined him in 22nd place. The Indianapolis 500 was next, and the Hemelgarn team switched to Dallara chassis. “When he changed over to a Dallara, I knew at that point that team was the one we were going to have to beat for the championship,” Cheever said of Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing. “That’s what has turned out to happen.” Cheever won at Pikes Peak only to drop out early in the next race at Atlanta due to engine failure. It has been the only race this season where he has not been running at the finish. It was costly because it dropped him 23 points behind Lazier into second in the standings after he had led his rival by eight after Pikes Peak. Cheever had expected the arrival of the updated 35A version of the Infiniti engine since midseason, but the company made the decision to hold off on the engine’s debut until next season’s opener in March at Phoenix. That will allow Cheever’s team to do extended testing in the offseason. “I think we’ll probably be testing the 35A about 10 days after the Texas race,” he said. Cheever emphasized that Infiniti was the reason he was in the title hunt. Despite the one failure at Atlanta, the engine had performed consistently in the other seven races. “We’re always pushing the envelope trying to get that little extra horsepower out of it,” he said. “I’m always trying to drive it as hard as I can, and anything made by human beings has a tendency to break sooner rather than later.” Cheever is excited about returning to the 1½-mile oval where the Northern Light Series cars put on a spectacular show in June as Scott Sharp beat out Robby McGehee by .059 of a second in the closest finish in series history. “Texas was one of the most unbelievable races I’ve ever participated in,” said Cheever, who has competed in major-league motorsports since the late 1970s. “We all were running laps at 215 mph. It was like the Daytona 500 where drafting is so important, but unlike in NASCAR where they can bump and rub on each other. We can’t do that. What you had was about 12 cars that were no farther apart than half-a-foot from each other.” What Cheever wants this time, however, is for Lazier to be a half-a-race behind him at the finish. It’s his only chance to become the 2001 Northern Light Series champion.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Eddie Cheever , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Davey Hamilton , Scott Goodyear
Teams Panther Racing