IRL: Title math is simple, yet challenging for B. Lazier at Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Sept. 29, 2000 - The math looks so simple for Buddy Lazier and the Hemelgarn Racing team, but it might be the most difficult equation they’ve ever had to solve. Lazier needs to finish 13th or better at...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday, Sept. 29, 2000 - The math looks so simple for Buddy Lazier and the Hemelgarn Racing team, but it might be the most difficult equation they’ve ever had to solve. Lazier needs to finish 13th or better at the season-ending Excite 500 on Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway to clinch his first Northern Light Cup and earn a $1 million bonus as 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion. Lazier leads second-place Scott Goodyear, 258-220 in the Northern Light Cup standings entering this race. Even if Goodyear scored a maximum of 55 points in this event, a 13th-place finish with no bonus points would give Lazier 17 points, tying him with Goodyear atop the points with 275. But Lazier would take the title due to his two victories this season in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Goodyear is winless entering this event in his Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Eddie Cheever Jr., third at 217 points, is the only other driver in mathematical contention for the title. Cheever has one victory this season in the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. On the surface, Lazier’s task doesn’t look that difficult. After all, he only has two finishes worse than seventh this season, both the result of mechanical failure. His average finish in the first eight races this year is 7.9. He has finished second and first, respectively, in his last two starts. And Lazier and the Hemelgarn Racing team can be counted on to perform in the spotlight. Just look at their record in the Indianapolis 500 - the biggest stage in auto racing in the world - since 1996. Lazier and Hemelgarn have teamed up to finish seventh or better every year since 1996, including a victory in 1996 and runner-up finishes in 1998 and this year. So a championship run should be a mere formality, right? Hardly. Every racer knows that gremlins can strike at any time. But drivers and teams often have little control over that. The variable that Texas Motor Speedway adds to the championship equation is tighter competition arguably than at any other track in the Northern Light Series. Scott Sharp won the Casino Magic 500 by .059 of a second over runner-up Robby McGehee in June at Texas, the closest finish in Indy Racing Northern Light Series history. There were a series-record 31 lead changes among eight drivers, including Lazier. He led 11 times for 62 laps but finished seventh. And that’s the nerve-wracking problem facing Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing. The wheel-to-wheel, inches-apart racing seen in June at Texas probably will be repeated on the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval at this event. So that means that as many as 12 cars will be running in a freight train around the track, side by side. At many points during the Casino Magic 500, less than a second separated first and 12th place. So it’s Lazier’s job to ensure that he stays toward the front of the pack and out of trouble, especially if Goodyear or Cheever are leading. Qualifying and pit stops will play a vital role in determining track position at this event. Qualifying hasn’t been a strong suit of Lazier’s for most of the season, as he won the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 in March at Phoenix after starting last. But Lazier qualified a season-best seventh at The Belterra Resort Indy 300 in August at Kentucky Speedway, paving the way to a victory. Lazier started fifth in the season opener at Walt Disney World and first in June at Texas, but the starting grid was determined by entrant points at both of those races after qualifying was rained out. Pit work also is a strong suit of Hemelgarn Racing, consistently one of the best crews in Indy Racing. The Northern Light Cup isn’t the only title up for grabs at Texas. The battle for RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year honors is even tighter than the chase for the championship. Brazilian Airton Dare leads Jeret Schroeder, 124-122, in the standings. Dare finished 10th at Texas in June for Dallas-area team TeamXtreme. Schroeder was 21st in the Tri Star Motorsports entry. Also in contention for the rookie title are Sam Hornish Jr. with 107 points and Sarah Fisher with 105. Fisher, who made her Indy Racing debut last October at Texas, might be the dark horse for the RaceSearch.com rookie crown. She finished a career-best third in The Belterra Resort Indy 300 on Aug. 27 at Kentucky Speedway in the Walker Racing Cummins Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Regardless of which driver takes the Northern Light Cup and RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year Award, expect a new face in the winner’s circle at this race. No driver has ever won more than once at Texas in the six previous Indy Racing events contested at the state-of-the-art 1.5-mile oval.

EXCITE 500 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Excite 500 starts at 1 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 15. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at noon Oct. 14. Practice sessions start at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13, and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Oct. 14.

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On the air: The Excite 500 will be televised on a same-day delayed basis on ESPN at 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15. “Indy Racing 2Day” will be televised at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15 on ESPN2. ESPN2 will televise MBNA Pole qualifying at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast a 30-minute prerace show at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15, followed by the live race broadcast at 2 p.m. IRRN will broadcast a qualifying summary show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14. The area IRRN affiliate is WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas. The IRRN 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. Live streaming video of all practice sessions will be available at www.LiveOnTheNet.com .

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Tickets: Tickets for the Excite 500 are available by calling Texas Motor Speedway at (817) 215-8500, through Ticketmaster outlets or at Ticketmaster Online at www.ticketmaster.com . Ticket information is available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com .

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Excite 500 FAST FACTS

WHAT:

Excite 500; last of nine races in 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series season

WHERE:

Texas Motor Speedway, 1.5-mile paved tri-oval

WHEN:

1 p.m. (CDT), Sunday, Oct. 15

DISTANCE:

500 kilometers/312 miles/208 laps

POSTED AWARDS:

More than $1 million

CARS:

Dallara and G Force chassis; Oldsmobile V8 and Infiniti Indy V8 engines; Firestone tires

1999 RACE WINNER:

Mark Dismore

CURRENT SERIES POINTS LEADER:

Buddy Lazier

TV:

(Pre-Race)

"Indy Racing 2Day" ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15

(Race)

ESPN (tape-delayed), 4 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15
Announcers: Bob Jenkins, Tom Sneva
Pit reporters: Vince Welch, Jack Arute

(Qualifying)

ESPN2 (tape-delayed), 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14
Announcers: Bob Jenkins, Tom Sneva
Pit reporters: Vince Welch, Jack Arute

RADIO:

(Race)

Indy Racing Radio Network (live), 2 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15
Pre-race show starts at 1:30 p.m.
Area affiliate: WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas
Host: Mike King; Analyst: Doug Rice
Pit reporters: Chris Denari, Mark Jaynes
Turns: Jerry Baker

(Qualifying Summary)

Indy Racing Radio Network, 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 14
Area affiliate: WBAP-AM 820, Arlington, Texas
Host: Mike King

SCHEDULE (all times local):

(Friday, Oct. 13)

8 a.m.: Northern Light Series garage opens
1:30-3:30 p.m.: Northern Light Series practice (two groups)
4:30-5:30 p.m.: Northern Light Series practice (two groups)

(Saturday, Oct. 14)

7 a.m.: Northern Light Series garage opens
9-10:30 a.m.: Northern Light Series practice (two groups)
Noon: MBNA Pole qualifying
4-4:30 p.m.: Northern Light Series final practice
4:45 p.m.: Northern Light Series autograph session, garage area

(Sunday, Oct. 15)

7 a.m.: Northern Light Series garage opens
Noon: Northern Light Series cars to grid
1 p.m.: Excite 500 (500 kilometers/312 miles/208 laps)

THE TRACK:

Texas Motor Speedway
1.5-mile paved superspeedway
Front straightaway: 2,250 feet
Back straightaway: 1,330 feet
Turns: 750 feet
Width: 58 feet (minimum)
Banking: Straightaways, 5 degrees; Turns, 24 degrees

Texas Motor Speedway, completed in 1997, is owned and operated by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. The facility is the second-largest sports facility in the country, behind only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The facility features 154,861 permanent seats and 194 luxury suites, plus 1/4-mile and 1/5-mile paved ovals and a 2/5-mile dirt track. In addition to the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, TMS plays host to events sanctioned by NASCAR, the World of Outlaws, Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Late Models, SCCA and the American Le Mans Series.

THE RACE:

(The Excite 500 marks the seventh time the Indy Racing Northern Light Series has visited Texas Motor Speedway. There has been a June race at Texas since 1997, and a fall race was added in 1998. There has not been a two-time winner at Texas in the history of the Northern Light Series. Former Northern Light Series winners include Arie Luyendyk (June 1997), Billy Boat (June 1998), John Paul Jr. (September 1998), Scott Goodyear (June 1999), Mark Dismore (October 1999) and Scott Sharp (June 2000).

(Texas Motor Speedway was the site of the closest finish in Northern Light Series history at the Casino Magic 500 on June 11, 2000. Scott Sharp beat Robby McGehee to the finish line by 59-thousandths of a second, a distance of about two-thirds of a car length. The race featured 31 lead changes among eight drivers, a series record.

RACE NOTES:

(Sarah Fisher made her Indy Racing Northern Light Series debut one year ago at this event, driving the #48 Mead/Team Pelfrey Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Fisher qualified 17th and finished 25th due to mechanical problems. Fisher returns for the Excite 500 driving the Walker Racing Cummins Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Fisher, who celebrates her 20th birthday on Oct. 4, earned her first Northern Light Series podium finish with a third-place effort Aug. 27 at Kentucky Speedway.

(Three former Indianapolis 500 champions are entered in this event: Eddie Cheever Jr. (1998), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994).

(Seven of the top-10 finishers from the 84th Indianapolis 500 are entered in the Excite 500, including Buddy Lazier (second place), Eliseo Salazar (third), Jeff Ward (fourth), Eddie Cheever Jr. (fifth), Stephan Gregoire (eighth), Scott Goodyear (ninth) and Scott Sharp (10th).

(Al Unser Jr.'s #3 Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone entry will carry a special Dracula-themed paint scheme at the Excite 500 as part of Action Performance's and Universal Studio's Monsters of the Speedway program. The program includes cars and drivers at select Northern Light Series, NASCAR and NHRA events throughout the month of October, featuring classic Halloween characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Mummy. This marks the first time a Northern Light Series team has been selected to participate in a special paint scheme promotion with Action.

SERIES NOTES:

(Points leader Buddy Lazier must finish 13th or better to clinch his first Northern Light Cup as 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion, regardless of where title contenders Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. finish. Lazier leads with 258 points. Goodyear is runner-up with 220, while Cheever is third at 217. They are the only drivers eligible for the $1 million bonus from Northern Light as series champion. Goodyear could finish the season with a maximum of 275 points. Lazier only needs a 13th-place finish to tie that total, and he would become champion due to his two victories this season. Lazier is the only driver with at least two victories this season.

(The chase for the RaceSearch.com Rookie of the Year Award is tight, with Airton Daré leading Jeret Schroeder, 124-122. Sam Hornish Jr. is only two points ahead of Sarah Fisher for the third position, 107-105. The winner of the Rookie of the Year Award earns a $50,000 bonus from RaceSearch.com.

<pre> STATISTICS: 2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series point standings 1. Buddy Lazier 258 2. Scott Goodyear 220 3. Eddie Cheever Jr. 217 4. Mark Dismore 186 5. Eliseo Salazar 180 6. Scott Sharp 179 7. Robbie Buhl 178 8. Donnie Beechler 174 9. Al Unser Jr. 173 10. Robby McGehee 168

2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series money leaders 1. Juan Montoya $1,235,690 2. Buddy Lazier $1,112,600 3. Eddie Cheever Jr. $789,350 4. Greg Ray $777,000 5. Eliseo Salazar $769,300 6. Scott Goodyear $761,200 7. Scott Sharp $728,250 8. Al Unser Jr. $676,000 9. Mark Dismore $675,350 10. Robbie Buhl $651,200

2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series wins 1. Buddy Lazier 2 2. Robbie Buhl 1 Eddie Cheever Jr. 1 Juan Montoya 1 Greg Ray 1 Scott Sharp 1 Al Unser Jr. 1

2000 Indy Racing Northern Light Series rookie points 1. Airton Daré 124 2. Jeret Schroeder 122 3. Sam Hornish Jr. 107 4. Sarah Fisher 105 5. Shigeaki Hattori 83

2000 Net Race Live lap leaders 1. Greg Ray 299 2. Buddy Lazier 204 3. Scott Sharp 174 4. Juan Montoya 167 5. Mark Dismore 157

2000 MBNA Poles* 1. Greg Ray 4 2. Mark Dismore 1 Scott Goodyear 1

2000 wins by chassis 1. Dallara 4 2. G Force 3 3. Riley & Scott 1

2000 wins by engine 1. Oldsmobile 7 2. Nissan 1

*Walt Disney World and first Texas qualifying canceled due to rain. Greg Ray started first at WDW and Buddy Lazier first at Texas as field was ordered by entrant points.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Shigeaki Hattori , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Stephan Gregoire , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Billy Boat , Airton Daré , Mark Dismore , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Donnie Beechler , Tom Sneva , John Paul , Sam Hornish Jr.