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Lazier puts title within reach in Kentucky derby

28 August 2000

Buddy Lazier took a narrow victory over Championship rival Scott Goodyear at the inaugural Belterra Resort 300 to set up the title finale in Texas next month.

Once again the Indy Racing Northern Light Series provided a great spectacle for the 50,000 plus fans that turned out to watch the inaugural Belterra Resort Indy 300 at the brand new Kentucky Motor Speedway.

Current points leader Buddy Lazier put in a storming drive to clinch victory and put the IRNLS title within his reach after a race filled with drama and excitement. The 200-lap event was capped off when Lazier's winning Dallara-Aurora had a gearbox expire as the jubilant driver crossed the finish line, a testament to the gutsy work put in by its driver.

Lazier becomes the first driver to score two wins this year, this adding to his outstanding last to first Phoenix success, extending his points advantage to 38 over second placed man Goodyear. The final man left in the title race, Eddie Cheever, put in another determined drive to finish fourth in a car that simply wasn't capable of victory.

However the ex-Formula One veteran had to give best to rookie sensation Sarah Fisher who scored the highest ever finish position for a woman in an Indy Racing event. Fisher led a lap for the first time in her short career and was the only other driver to keep pace with the leading duo in the final 30 laps of the race. At the chequered flag the 19 year old driver was a mere seven seconds behind Lazier and had the race gone just one lap longer she would've finished as the runner up. Not bad in just her eighth career start.

There were plenty of other stories during a race that saw 18 recorded lead changes (although there were countless more around the rest of the track, unseen by the scoring monitors) between ten drivers. Barring a major accident on lap three which eliminated title contenders Eliseo Salazar and Al Unser Jr and also eliminating the impressive Jeret Schroeder, the racing was very clean with only four caution periods to disrupt the action.

The early laps saw a close tussle between pole man Goodyear and the unfortunate Salazar and Schroeder which was resolved when the latter pair collided whilst going into Turn One, Unser Jr getting embroiled when Schroeder's spinning car pushed him into the outside wall as he braked in avoidance.

Goodyear led much of the first 30 tours but was challenged strongly by the young Sam Hornish in the under funded PDM Motorsports G Force who took the lead on lap 31. Hornish, who was only driving after intended pilot David Pook withdrew at the last minute, simply sailed through the field from 20th on the grid and as the race approached the half way mark he looked to have the strongest car in the race.

The battle for the lead was breathtaking at times with Hornish, Jaques Lazier, Jeff Ward, Jimmy Kite and the elder of the Lazier brothers all getting involved in some great wheel to wheel dicing. Sadly though, the immense speed at which the race was being run was too much for several of the victory contenders and as the field thinned out, the more experienced Goodyear and Lazier (B) came to the fore.

After the younger Lazier, having a great first time outing for the Mid America team, had an engine failure on lap 121 and Kite suffered a similar heart-breaking problem whilst leading on lap 155 it was left to Fisher, who had been in contention for the lead all day, to take the point for the first time in her career.

The near sold-out crowd came unglued when the 19 year old held her nerve and calmly picked her way through the field as the other contenders pitted. As she was on a slightly different pit strategy from the others and without the aid of a much needed caution flag her lead was something of a false dawn but still, it was a well-deserved moment.

Even better was still to come for as Goodyear and Lazier battled it out for the lead over the final 30 tours, Fisher moved back up through the leader board after her stop to take third spot and a well deserved podium finish.

Try as he might Goodyear could not find a way around Lazier in the last 30 laps despite being almost nose to tail for much of the way. The situation wasn't helped by some unhelpful back markers late on in the race which more or less prevented the veteran Canadian from making a final run on the Colorado native, despite that the gap was a mere 1.8 seconds at the end.

As an ecstatic Lazier punched the air in delight a loud bang from the rear of the car signalled a gearbox failure and the car simply coasted to a halt. It had been a remarkable end to a remarkable race.

Fisher and Cheever were the only other drivers to finish on the same lap as the winner with the latter driver now the only other man capable of taking the title away from either Lazier or Goodyear.

Those who kissed their title hopes goodbye included both Salazar and Unser Jr who were simply grateful for being unharmed after a very powerful impact with the concrete. Scott Sharp had been in trouble all weekend and once again his car let him down on just the 16th lap ending his hopes while Mark Dismore, Robbie Buhl and Donnie Beechler simply didn't have the machinery capable of challenging the leaders.

Completing the top five on the track was Stephan Gregoire who had another solid outing in the Dick Simon entered G Force while Jeff Ward gave the disappointed AJ Foyt something to smile about with a fine sixth place. Salazar's crash on lap three ended the American legends hopes of another title to add to his immense collection.

Greg Ray was a much-subdued seventh in a performance that went almost unnoticed by many. The Team Menard driver had been expected to shine after his complete decimation of the field in Atlanta and had looked well on the pace from the start of practice here. However from third on the grid he steadily dropped away and was not credited with leading a lap. From being a well-balanced machine on Saturday the Dallara was now an ungainly beast that Ray struggled to tame all day.

Shigeaki Hattori had another strong outing for the Treadway/Vertex/Cunningham outfit and came home in eighth just ahead of the unlucky Hornish whose day will come soon. Beechler was tenth a further lap adrift ahead of the similarly disappointed Dismore with Buzz Calkins and fellow championship hopefuls Buhl and Robby McGehee completing the list of competitive finishers.

JJ Yeley and Davey Hamilton struggled on till the end with a variety of problems and at least gained a credit for effort while the deceptively smooth Kentucky put paid to the hopes of the rest.

With just one race remaining in the series at the Texas Motor Speedway, Goodyear must win the race and hope that Lazier finishes 13th or worse while Cheever simply has to win and pray that the other two drop out. Finishing in the top 13 may not sound like an insurmountable task and indeed it isn't but when you take into consideration the race that Texas produced back in June then it become clear that the title is still well up in the air.


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