Lazier At Home At Homestead

Forgive him for sounding so confident. He is, after all, the defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion and the only driver to win more than one race last season.

After a day of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Buddy Lazier walked away with a clear mission.

"That’s the only reason we’re coming here, to win, and if we can’t win, to score as many points as we can for the championship," Lazier said. "I think we’re going to be in good shape.

"We were just warming up, and we were already turning competitive times."

This after turning in a lap in 26.97 seconds at 200.222 mph, second only to Scott Sharp’s 200.3 mph lap on Jan. 19.

If he’s just getting warmed up, it may be a long season for the drivers who hope to pry the Northern Light Cup out of Lazier’s hands.

The scary thing is, Lazier really wasn’t even trying to run the fastest lap.

"Testing is not about speed," Lazier explained. "You’re making a big mistake if all you do is test to get the ultimate lap.

"This is about learning, documenting certain technical changes and data, so that when you come back, you can make the right choices."

If Hemelgran Racing makes the right choices, Lazier should have no trouble contending for the pole position on April 7, the day before the inaugural Infiniti Grand Prix of Miami. If not, Lazier has proven he can win from anywhere.

In the second race of the 2000 season, Lazier started last and carved his way through the field to claim a win in the MCI WorldCom Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. That doesn’t mean he wants to try it again, however.

"I’d just as soon start up front, but in this series, sitting on the pole is not an advantage," the 33-year-old from Vail, Colo., said. "It’s a long race, and all the cars are very equal, so you’re not going to win the race from where you start."

Like Sharp and Greg Ray, who have also tested at the track, Lazier expects the racing at Homestead will be similar to what IRNLS fans have come to know and love about the all-oval series.

"You’re going to have a whole field that’s bunched up, and you’re going to see a lot of wheel-to-wheel racing," Lazier said. "I think that Miami is going to love the race. It’s going to be very exciting.

"It's the series of the future. You're looking at the same cars and drivers that compete in the Indianapolis 500. We're contesting the million dollar Northern Light Cup, and the series is very, very competitive.

"This is an American-based series that's very exciting for the fans, you never know who's going to win. I believe it's the open-wheel series of the future."

Lazier was equally as positive about his first laps around the 1.5-mile flat oval.

"This track is wonderful. It took me a while to get used to the blue walls, but the track’s really smooth, and it’s going to be a real driving and handling racetrack," he said. "It’s going to be a tricky racetrack to get a handle on. The way the wind hits you coming out of Turn 1 also caught me by surprise."

"It’s a great facility. The fans can see all the action from the stands, and it doesn’t look like there’s a single bad seat in the house."

That should make it easier for fans to keep track of Lazier’s purple-and-white car. So should its number. Hemelgarn Racing decided to stick to No. 91 this season instead of taking over the traditional No. 1 of a champion.

Don’t think for a second, though, that Lazier won’t resemble a champion when the season begins in Phoenix on March 18.

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