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IRL: Robbie Buhl Pits Early...Wins Late!!

31 January 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
For Robbie Buhl it's not how many laps that you lead but that you lead the last lap. Starting from 22nd place, Buhl weaved and dodged his way through traffic all day, coupling his driving style with a savvy pit call by his pit crew helped propel Buhl to his second career IRL victory. Buhl, driving the Purex sponsored Dallara Oldsmobile, grabbed the lead for good from Eddie Cheever on lap 198 when both drivers encountered slower traffic. Buhl's victory at the Delphi Indy 200 was made even sweeter considering the fact that Buhl's team is barely one month old. Commenting after the race Buhl offered "We had a good race car. Cheever was being really aggressive in the race, so we let him go. Mitch Davis, Purex, Dreyer and Reinbold put a great car under me. It was nice to put it to Cheever there at the end."

Race day weather never became the factor that had been forecast. Starting under partly cloudy skies the race was just two laps old when the yellow flag was displayed for Jacques Lazier's spin exiting Turn 2. Fortunately, no one else was involved. The race went back to green on lap 7 with Greg Ray leading the field. At lap #10 the running order of the top five was Greg Ray, Jeff Ward, Buddy Lazier, Mark Dismore and Eddie Cheever. On lap #23 the second yellow of the day was brought out when Davey Hamilton made contact with the outside of Turn #1. At the time the top five running order was Ray, Lazier, Dismore, Ward and Calkins. Another driver of note was Al Unser, Jr.'s charge through the field. Starting in 24th place, Unser,Jr. had driven his way to 17th place. During this second caution period was when Buhl's team made the call to pit out of sequence. The strategy by the team was that the race would probably have anywhere from six to eight cautions. Their pre-race strategy paid off handsomely. On lap #50 Buhl took over the lead during the third caution of the day when the leaders pitted and Buhl, by pitting out of sequence had now inherited the lead.

The top five at lap #60 were Buhl, Beechler, Ray, Boat and Lazier. Behind the top five were McGehee, Dismore, Hornish, Calkins and Cheever. On lap #66, Unser, Jr.s' day came to an abrupt end. Having worked his way up to 12th place Unser, Jr. was suddenly in the pits. "The engine let go. Something in the bottom end let go. The car was doing a really good job. I had a little too much push in the thing. I was able to run well in traffic. It's a lot of fun. I was having a great time. You're always having fun when you're passing people."

No sooner had Unser, Jr. retired from the race, than the fourth yellow of the day came out when Jon Herb was slowing exiting turn #3 on lap #67. The field went back to green on lap #76. Buhl still holding onto the lead was being pursued by Buddy Lazier and Greg Ray. The race stayed green until lap #95 when Robby Unser hit the outside wall between Turns 2 and 3. On lap #96 the pits opened. Buhl, having utilized the pit strategy to move forward through the field now pitted with the leaders. The sequence of pit stops by the teams revealed that Donnie Beechler was now the leader followed by Dismore, Buddy Lazier, Buhl and Cheever. The race went back to green on lap 107. On lap #109 Mark Dismore, who had been hanging around the top five all day passed Beechler for the lead. Just when it seemed that the race might settle down for some racing, Jacques Lazier hit the outside retaining wall on the front straight on lap #110. The seventh yellow of the day lasted until lap #125. When the green flag dropped Cheever passed Beechler for third place. At lap #130 the running order was Dismore, Buddy Lazier, Cheever, Salazar and John Hollansworth.

Once again just as the racing appeared ready to go green for several laps Sam Hornish spun exiting turn #1 on lap 135. All of the leaders pitted for fuel and tires. The sequence of pit stops gave Robby McGehee the lead. His team, Treadway Racing had calculated that his fuel range was capable of going all the way without stopping.

On lap #145 the race went back to green. Buddy Lazier detecting a slow start by McGehee streaked past and assumed the lead. On lap #150 the top five were Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever, Robby McGehee, Robbie Buhl and Scott Goodyear. For the next 26 laps the top five drivers were separated by no less than five seconds. Cheever was trying to find the right area to pass Lazier. With the driving line becoming smaller and smaller with each lap. Cheever after the race estimated "the driving line in certain spots was about 1 and quarter car width." In other words it would be a challenge to find a clean area to make a pass.

On lap #176 the race was turned into a 17 lap shootout. John Hollansworth spun on the backstretch which brought out the eighth and final yellow of the day. On lap 183 the green flag waved. Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever and Robbie Buhl broke away from the other seven cars on the lead lap. On lap 191 Cheever, using slower traffic as a pick, passed Lazier. Lazier was forced to go "into the marbles." Buhl, noticing that Lazier had to ease off passed Lazier for second on the ensuing lap in Turn 1.

The race then became a shoot-out between Cheever and Buhl with Lazier trying to join the fight. Once again, traffic became an asset for one driver and a hindrance for another. On lap 199 Buhl passed Cheever for the lead as the two drivers exiting Turn 1 found slower traffic. Just as Cheever had used slower traffic to pass Lazier, Buhl executed the same maneuver on Cheever. Buddy Lazier was able to grab second place from the slowing Cheever who ended up third. Scott Goodyear came home a respective fourth place with Eliseo Salazar very quietly finishing in fifth place.

There were 11 lead changes among 8 drivers

Average Speed:102.292 mph

Margin of Victory:3.165 seconds

Caution Flags:8 for 65 laps

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.