Formula One
 Monday, August 28
Lazier fights through numerous glitches for win
 Associated Press

SPARTA, Ky. -- Messed up pit stops and a broken gearbox couldn't keep Buddy Lazier from taking control of the Indy Racing League championship series Sunday with a hard-earned victory in the Belterra Resort Indy 300.

Buddy Lazier (top) only has to finish 13th or better in the season-ending IRL race at Texas on Oct. 15 to win his first Northern Light Cup as series champion.

"There was some racing luck involved today," said Lazier, whose Hemelgarn Racing Dallara-Oldsmobile coasted to a stop moments after taking the checkered flag at the new Kentucky Speedway.

"I swear this has never happened," Lazier, 32, said. "I crossed the finish line and I literally broke the gearbox. It was my fault. I really abused it getting through traffic, downshifting and upshifting."

Lazier took the lead for good 31 laps from the end of the 200-lap event, moving to the top when rookie sensation Sarah Fisher made her final pit stop.

He then kept pole-winner Scott Goodyear at bay to the end while negotiating heavy traffic at times on the 1.5-mile oval. The key moment came on lap 194 when Lazier was able to lap sixth-place Jeff Ward and put some distance between him and the second-place car.

"I owe a big thanks to Jeff Ward," Lazier said. "At a critical time, he let me by him. He can be really hard to pass and that made a big difference."

In fact, it may have made all the difference, considering his gearbox problems.

"I had to lift off in traffic and it would jump out of gear, and it was happening in the corners, which is the worst possible place," Lazier said. "I got lucky because I was able to get it back in and still keep the momentum going. It could have broken at any time."

The margin of victory was 1.879 seconds -- about 15 car-lengths -- and Lazier, who came into the race with a 23-point lead over Eddie Cheever, found himself holding a 38-point edge over new runner-up Goodyear in the battle for the Northern Light Cup championship. He won $126,300 while averaging 164.601 mph.

Cheever, who finished behind the 19-year-old Fisher in fourth, fell to third in the standings and now trails the leader by 41 points with only the season finale on Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway remaining.

Each race in the IRL has a maximum of 55 points and Lazier can wrap up his first championship by finishing 13th or better at the Fort Worth track.

"It's been a slugfest with Buddy for most of the season, but now I'd say he has a pretty firm lock on the championship," Cheever said. "Today was Buddy's day. He deserved to win."

Even before his gearbox problems began, it wasn't an easy day for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner, who picked up the fourth win of his IRL career and became the first multiple winner in eight races this season. He won in March at Phoenix.

Lazier, who started seventh in the 27-car field, worked his way slowly to the front and took the lead for the first time on lap 41 with a strong outside pass of rookie Sam Hornish Jr.

But, during a series of pit stops by the leaders during a caution period that began on lap 51, Lazier failed to get a full fuel load on his first stop and had to come in a second time, falling all the way to 16th.

"I might have been too far away from the wall so there was a problem when they stretched out the fuel line to hook it up to the car," Lazier said. "After that, I had to fight all day to get back to the front of the field."

Lazier had worked himself back up to eighth by the next round of pit stops, but wound up falling far behind again when his team failed to notify him soon enough to pit with the rest of the leaders.

Team owner Ron Hemelgarn said, "When the yellow came out, we didn't get the call that the pits were open and Buddy was already at the pit entrance, so he had to go all the way around again. But the only thing you can do is rebound."

The first of four caution flags -- and the only crash of the day -- came on the third lap as Eliseo Salazar, who jumped past Goodyear into the lead at the green flag, slammed together with Jeret Schroeder, who had moved from sixth to second.

As those two hit the wall, a car driven by Al Unser Jr. crashed hard trying to avoid Schroeder's car and Scott Sharp ran over debris and wound up spending a long period of time in the garage area for repairs.

The only injury reported was a contusion to Unser's right thigh.

A crowd announced at 61,214 had its biggest thrill of a very competitive race when Hornish, whose team held him out of the morning warmup because they had only one engine available, got into a side-by-side battle for the lead with Jaques Lazier, Buddy's younger brother.

Hornish drove past Ward to take the lead on lap 67 and those two stayed out front for a considerable time.

Then, on lap 92, the younger Lazier came barreling into the picture, moving past Ward for second place. The next time around the two got side-by-side and stayed that way for seven laps, with the lead changing hands three times before Lazier finally took control.

Neither driver was able to keep up the pace, though, as Lazier's engine blew on lap 121 and Hornish had to pit after losing power and wound up a lap down in ninth.

While Goodyear led a race-high 64 laps, he fell behind Lazier, who led 48, on his final pit stop on lap 161 and was never able to get back to the top.

"I had a couple of runs (on Lazier) near the end, but Ward and (Stephan) Gregoire didn't give me any room and that killed my momentum," Goodyear said. "I guess they were racing each other. But it's a shame because I might have had something for Buddy."


IRL Belterra 300 Results

 Buddy Lazier takes the checkered flag at the Kentucky Indy 300.
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RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

 Salazar, Schroeder, Unser Jr. and Sharp are involved in a four-car crash on Lap 2.
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RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

 Sunday's victory was just what Buddy Lazier needed.
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 Scott Goodyear had a little trouble negotiating through traffic.
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 It was a great day for Sarah Fisher, who placed third in front of her hometown fans.
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 Jeret Schroeder talks about the four-car crash that ended his day.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 There was nothing Eliseo Salazar could do to avoid contact with Schroeder.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Other than a little bruise, Al Unser Jr. was in good shape following his crash.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6