Clash Of The Team Titans To Resume At Kansas Speedway KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 2, 2001 - The battle for the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship is beginning to have a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. Defending champion Buddy Lazier...
Clash Of The Team Titans To Resume At Kansas Speedway
KANSAS CITY, Kan., Monday, July 2, 2001 - The battle for the 2001 Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship is beginning to have a sense of déjà vu.
Defending champion Buddy Lazier has driven his No. 91 Tae-Bo/Coors Light/Delta Faucet Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone to victory in the last two races to pull into second place in the Northern Light Cup standings with 219 points, 50 behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.
It's looking more and more like a battle for supremacy between Lazier's Hemelgarn Racing and Hornish's Panther Racing. Last year, Lazier held off Panther's Scott Goodyear by 18 points to win the series championship.
This dramatic showdown between two of the top teams in Indy Racing will continue in new surroundings, as the Indy Racing Northern Light Series comes to the new Kansas Speedway for the first time for the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 at noon (CDT) on July 8. The atmosphere will be charged, for two reasons.
First, the race is sold out, as more than 75,000 fans will fill the stands around the state-of-the-art, 1.5-mile oval to see wheel-to-wheel racing at speeds faster than 210 mph.
Second, the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 is the fourth race in five weeks, the busiest span in series history. Teams and drivers know this is a crucial stretch on the road to the Northern Light Cup. And not surprisingly, the hottest drivers during the last five weeks have been Lazier and Hornish.
Lazier, from Vail, Colo., has two victories and a fourth-place finish in the last three races, helping him climb from seventh to second in the point standings. He will try to become just the second driver in series history to win three consecutive races at this event. Kenny Brack won three straight en route to the series title in 1998.
"This team is really picking up a lot of momentum as the dog days of the championship and of the summer roll in," Lazier said after winning June 30 at Richmond, Va. "We just keep picking up momentum."
It also doesn't hurt that many drivers who have tested at Kansas Speedway compare it to the 1.5-mile oval at Kentucky Speedway. Lazier won the inaugural Indy Racing event last August at Kentucky.
Hornish, from Defiance, Ohio, has finished second in both of the races won by Lazier and added a third-place finish in his last three races. He opened the season - his first with Panther Racing - with two consecutive victories to take the points lead and has never relinquished it. His 50-point margin over Lazier amounts to nearly a one-race lead, as a driver can score a maximum of 52 points at an event.
Still, Hornish knows that someone must stop Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing, who appear to be entering the same summer groove that helped them record five top-seven finishes in the last six races of 2000 to win the championship.
"Somebody other than Buddy's got to win," Hornish said after finishing second to Lazier at Richmond. "He's getting too close there."
Hornish should get plenty of help in stopping Lazier. There are plenty of other drivers and teams capable of the task, starting with a member of Lazier's family.
Jaques Lazier, Buddy's younger brother, won the MBNA Pole at Richmond in his first race with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Jaques Lazier could be a threat for his first career victory at Kansas in the No. 99 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Racing Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone.
The Galles Racing duo of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. and rookie Didier Andre also could contend for the win. The team produced its best effort of the season at Richmond as Unser and Andre finished third and fourth, respectively, in the No. 3 Galles Racing Starz SuperPak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone and the No. 32 Galles Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone.
While Galles Racing is based in Albuquerque, N.M., the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 will be a sort of homecoming for the team. Team owner Rick Galles, his wife, and two of their children graduated from the University of Kansas in nearby Lawrence.
Scott Sharp and Robbie Buhl also are prime contenders for victory at Kansas. Both have shown consistent form lately.
Sharp has finished first, eighth and fifth in his last three starts, respectively, in the No. 8 Delphi Automotive Systems Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone and is third in the Northern Light Cup standings with 201 points.
Buhl has finished third and ninth in his last two respective starts in the Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone.
Sarah Fisher is another driver to watch at Kansas. She qualified a career-best second at Richmond and finished third last August at Kentucky, a 1.5-mile oval with banking in the turns nearly identical to Kansas Speedway.
AMERISTAR CASINO INDY 200 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Ameristar Casino Indy 200 starts at noon (CDT) July 8. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 3:15 p.m. (CDT) July 7.
Practice sessions start at 11:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. July 6, 9:45 a.m. July 7 and 8:30 a.m. July 8. A free autograph session with all Indy Racing drivers is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. July 7 outside the grandstands at the track.
On the air: The Ameristar Casino Indy 200 will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. (EDT) July 8. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised live at 11 a.m. July 8 on ESPN2.
"RPM 2Night," the half-hour nightly motorsports show on ESPN2, will be televised live July 2-8 from Kansas Speedway. Check local listings for show times.
MBNA Pole Qualifying will be televised at 6 p.m. (EDT) July 7 on ESPN2. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) July 8, followed by the live race broadcast at 1 p.m. The area affiliate is WHB-AM 810, Kansas City, Mo.
The IMS Radio Network race broadcast also will be available live on the Internet at www.indyracing.com as part of a partnership between Indy Racing Online and Yahoo!/broadcast.com, the world's leading Web broadcast site.
Tickets: Race and MBNA Pole Qualifying tickets for the Ameristar Casino Indy 200 are sold out. Tickets for practice July 6 are available by calling (913) 328-RACE and online at www.kansasspeedway.com <http://www.kansasspeedway.com>.