If tradition is to be upheld, Eddie Cheever will win this year's Indy Racing Northern Light Series. The 42 year old ex-Arrows and Renault Formula One driver began the year as the only Infiniti powered driver in the entire IRL field and after victory in Sunday's Radisson 200 at Pikes Peak International Raceway, he now leads the championship.
The winner of the Radisson 200 for the last three years has gone on to win the championship and after a performance like the one he put in on Sunday, few will bet against Cheever continuing that trend for a fourth consecutive year.
Starting tenth, Cheever gained three places on the opening lap but was quite content to let Robbie Buhl in the only other Infiniti powered car in the field pull clear in the lead. Scott Sharp was able to muscle past pole-sitter Greg Ray to take second while Mark Dismore and Jeret Schroeder battled for fourth.
The race was only six laps old when Sarah Fisher made contact with the wall in turn two to bring out the yellow flags. As she entered the turn Billy Boat spun a little way in-front of her which caused her to break sharply. The back end snapped away and she was out. Somehow Boat avoided the concrete but was left stranded in the middle of the track awaiting a push start.
Fisher was not the first retirement of the day however, that honour being bestowed upon championship leader going into the race, Buddy Lazier. The Hemelgarn driver started the race 13th and managed to keep clear of the mid-field jostling on the opening half lap until suddenly and without warning, his Aurora engine went bang and as the rest of the field completed their first lap, a dejected Lazier coasted into the pits and retired.
Barring a miracle, Lazier's retirement meant that the championship lead was up for grabs and any one of seven drivers could take it. One of those drivers was Buhl who held the championship lead until the Indy 500 courtesy of his season opening Walt Disney World victory, achieved with an Aurora engine. The Dreyer & Reinbold driver was in an attacking mood and as the field were given the green flag, Buhl made a superb getaway. Sharp also got a good run and the pair soon left Ray, who shattered the track record in qualifying, alone in third.
Cheever got the jump on Eliseo Salazar and Schroeder on the re-start and moved up on the tail of Dismore where he remained for the next 20 laps.
Buhl and Sharp continued to circulate within a second of each other for the opening forty laps and although Ray closed up dramatically when they first encountered back-markers he dropped away in clear air. By lap 42 he was four seconds behind the leader and looking nervously over his shoulder at the advancing Cheever who had taken fourth when Dismore began suffering severe understeer. The Kelley driver actually dropped to 15th with the problem, almost going a lap down to the charging Buhl before the first round of pit-stops.
Other drivers on the move in the early stages were Donnie Beechler, Airton Dare and Buzz Calkins. Beechler started 15th, one place behind Calkins and one place ahead of Dare and all three made light work of the mid-fielders to climb into the top ten by the quarter distance mark. Beechler had made the most progress by this point and was up to fifth place, two spots ahead of Dare and three ahead of Calkins. However the Cahill driver wasn't done there and as the fuel loads went down, Beechler's car reacted better than most and he was able to put pressure on Cheever. After several laps shadowing Cheever's machine, Beechler went to the inside coming down the back straight and pushed Cheever wide into turn three. In a brave move, the young charger was up into fourth and closing on Ray.