Where It All Began

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The Indy Racing Northern Light Series owes a lot to Kentucky Speedway.

One year ago the inaugural race at the 1.5-mile track in Sparta, Ky., gave the IRNLS its largest audience in the Midwest outside of the Indianapolis 500 and showcased the best of the young stars in the IRNLS.

Sarah Fisher, arguably the most visible and best known driver in the IRNLS, had her best finish of the season when she finished third behind eventual series champion Buddy Lazier and series runner-up Scott Goodyear. She also led her first nine laps of IRNLS competition and became the first female driver to finish on the podium in Indy-style racing.

Current points leader Sam Hornish Jr. had his coming-out party at Kentucky, too, leading 38 laps before settling in for a ninth-place finish. Jaques Lazier also led his first laps of the season at Kentucky last season and provided more than 61,000 fans with a thrilling side-by-side battle with Hornish.

It was Fisher, however, who changed the landscape of the IRNLS with her podium showing in the rolling hills of northern Kentucky.

“This is my favorite track to run on,” the 20-year-old sophomore driver said. “I really like the geometry of it, and I'm looking forward to running there.”

Fisher and the Walker Racing team visited Kentucky Speedway on July 25 for a one-day test. The results pleased Fisher, but most importantly boosted her confidence after enduring finishes of 12th, 17th and 19th in the past three races.

“The test at Kentucky went very well for Walker Racing,” said Fisher, who topped out at 213.6 mph in the No. 15 Dallara-Aurora before rain ended her test. “We needed to regroup and get back on the horse for the last four remaining races. Kentucky provided us with a day to do just that. There were a lot of things we learned, but more importantly our communication, consistency and confidence is coming back to where it was last year.”

Hornish’s showing at Kentucky was a preview of what was to come. He led his first 38 laps of IRNLS competition in the next to last race of 2000, then opened up 2001 by leading 282 laps in the first two races of the season. The driver of the No. 4 Dallara-Aurora has led the points standings all season.

Jaques Lazier engaged in a fierce battle with Hornish at Kentucky in 2000. The two went opposite directions afterward, with Lazier entering 2001 without a full-time ride and Hornish joining powerful Pennzoil Panther Racing.

“Last year at Kentucky, Sam (Hornish) and I ran side by side for about nine laps,” said Lazier, who drives the No. 99 Dallara-Aurora for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. “The track certainly caters to my style of racing: it’s flat-out and extremely smooth with lots of draft possibilities. It’s very enjoyable.

“I just feel really great about the team and the racing to come. I think you’ll see a whole lot more of the side-by-side racing at Kentucky, and we are all really working hard to get our first victory.”

Lazier is close to making his first trip to victory lane. He had a career-best third-place finish at Nashville in July and captured his first pole in Richmond in June for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

Shigeaki Hattori and Robbie McGehee also turned in strong performances last season at Kentucky.

Hattori finished eighth for his third top-10 finish in four races, and McGehee finished 14th.

The class of 2001 will face an equally impressive youngster this year at Kentucky. Rookie Felipe Giaffone has finished in the Top 10 in eight of nine races this season and has been running at the finish in every race.

Perhaps he’ll follow Fisher’s lead and have his best career finish at Kentucky on Sunday. If so, that would mean a win for the Brazilian because he’s already finished second in his short career.

Action at Kentucky gets under way at 11 a.m. (ET) Friday with practice. Qualifying for the Belterra Casino Resort Indy 300 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, and the race is expected to start at about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

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Auto Club 500

@ Auto Club Speedway
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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