IRL: From Last to First - and Victory - At Phoenix

PHOENIX, Sunday, March 19, 2000 - A big gamble paid off for Buddy Lazier on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, delivering him one of the most improbable victories in Indy Racing Northern Light Series history. Lazier climbed from the 26th and...

PHOENIX, Sunday, March 19, 2000 - A big gamble paid off for Buddy Lazier on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, delivering him one of the most improbable victories in Indy Racing Northern Light Series history. Lazier climbed from the 26th and last starting position to the victory on the 1-mile oval, beating Scott Goodyear to the line by 4.191 seconds for his first Indy Racing victory since July 1997. Donnie Beechler finished a career-best third.

Lazier averaged 111.957 mph in a race slowed by seven cautions for 56 laps, earning $130,400.

It was the first time in series history that a driver has started last and won. Lazier was forced to start from the rear of the field when his Hemelgarn Racing team decided to switch to the team's backup Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Riley & Scott/Oldsmobile/Firestone car after qualifying a disappointing 24th Saturday. Any driver who switches to a backup car after qualifying must start from the rear of the field, according to Indy Racing League rules.

"We couldn't do anything with the primary car," Lazier said. "I have to tell you I was frightened in the car, and I don't normally frighten easily. "My guys did a great job. Ron (Hemelgarn, team owner) made the decision to roll out the backup car, and the guys worked through the night. We started last. I can't believe we can come through the field like that from last to first."

1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Lazier took the Indy Racing Northern Light Series points lead with the victory, the first in Indy Racing competition by a Riley & Scott chassis.

Lazier took the lead for the first time on Lap 151 of the 200-lap race but made his final pit stop on Lap 155, surrendering the lead to Robbie Buhl. Lazier regained the lead for good on Lap 161 when Buhl pitted.

The final caution period of the event started on Lap 162, and Lazier gradually pulled away from Goodyear after the restart on Lap 167, navigating lapped traffic for the improbable victory despite suffering from a stomach virus.

"This was just a tough week," Lazier said. "I had a nasty stomach bug. I couldn't eat or drink, and each day while we were here I would go back to the hotel and try to recover."

MBNA Pole winner Greg Ray led the first 18 laps but was eliminated in an accident on Lap 106.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. led the first laps of his Indy Racing Northern Light Series career, setting the pace on Laps 129-150. But he made his final pit stop, under the green flag, on Lap 151 and surrendered the lead. Rookie Sam Hornish Jr. crashed two laps later, triggering a caution period, which pushed Unser back in the field. He ended up ninth.

Buzz Calkins was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix for evaluation, complaining of back pain, after a crash on Lap 45. Preliminary X-rays were negative.

The next Indy Racing Northern Light Series event is the Las Vegas 500 on April 22 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

-IRL/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buzz Calkins , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Scott Goodyear , Donnie Beechler , Sam Hornish Jr.