Lazier Hopes Home Is Sweet
March 22, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Since joining Team Menard in August, Lazier has not been able to sustain positive momentum or finish consistently in the Indy Racing League. He hopes he’s able to break that trend this weekend in what amounts to a homecoming for the 31-year-old.
Lazier lives in nearby Alta Loma, Calif., and he’s likely to have a lot of people cheering for him in the Yamaha Indy 400 on Sunday.
“California is a home event for me, which is great, but running in front of the home crowd can be a positive and a negative,” said Lazier, driver of Team Menard’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevy. “Obviously, it'll be great to have my friends and family there cheering for me. The other side to that is I have to get tickets for all of them. It's a good problem to have, I suppose. Plus, that'll give me even more motivation to win. I'm looking forward to it.”
If he can win, Lazier will finish in the Top 10 for the second straight race. It would be the first time he’s done that since he joined the team last season.
In his first race as Greg Ray’s replacement, Lazier finished 16th at Gateway. He followed that up with a dominating performance at Chicagoland Speedway, where he started from the pole and won. At Texas Motor Speedway a month later, he fell back to 20th.
This season, Lazier started with an 18th-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a sixth at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. On Friday, Lazier and the rest of the IRL return to action after just five days off.
“Having Phoenix and California back-to-back presents a number of issues,” Lazier said. “For starters, they are two totally different tracks. I hate to say it, but we're starting to get into the dog days of summer when it comes to racing. The schedule moves on, and you have to be ready and prepared to compete every race. It becomes demanding. With these two races, the guys can't go back to the race shop, and that presents its own problems.”
Lazier can draw confidence from his most recent visit to the high-speed, 2-mile oval. At the Test in the West on Feb. 6, Lazier turned in the second fastest lap at 221.852 mph. He credited that performance to preseason preparation at Team Menard.
“We worked really hard in the offseason,” he said. “Team Menard put together what I think is the ultimate team.”
Lazier and the team are seventh in the points standings, 49 behind leader and defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. If testing holds true to form, Lazier should be a contender in what he expects to be a competitive affair.
“The California Speedway should produce an extremely exciting race with our IRL cars, not to mention a fast race,” Lazier said. “Our aero package is going to make it interesting. I anticipate a lot of passing and very high-speed passing, at that.”
Practice for the Yamaha Indy 400 begins at noon Friday. Qualifying is scheduled for 2 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The green flag waves on the race at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday.