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Originally published Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 6:57 AM

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1996 Indy 500 champ Buddy Lazier back in field

The first thing to know is that Buddy Lazier wasn't happy with the way things ended.

AP Sports Writer

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INDIANAPOLIS —

The first thing to know is that Buddy Lazier wasn't happy with the way things ended.

It was bump day four years ago at Indianapolis, and he couldn't find the speed. He kept trying and trying, heading out on the track as time wound down, only to be left out of the race.

The 1996 Indy 500 champion hadn't been back to the track since then, choosing instead to focus on the family business during a down economy. Rather than spending time dreaming about racing, Lazier was thinking of ways to lure skiers to the family's Tivoli Lodge in Vail, Colo.

But with the economy on the rebound, family and friends started to pony up money for a ride, and Lazier wasted little time jumping into it for the chance to return to Indy.

"Things are doing better now, it was a rare opportunity that presented itself," he said this week, "but I never felt comfortable where I left it. I was very unhappy where this was left."

Like so many in Gasoline Alley - Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, for example - Lazier comes from a racing family. His father Bob ran in the Indianapolis 500 in 1981, and his younger brother Jaques has started seven races on Memorial Day weekend.

But Buddy Lazier has always been the most talented in the family. He made his first trip to the fabled speedway in 1989, and despite fits and starts for a few years, returned with a well-established team in 1996. That's when he held off Davy Jones to win his first IndyCar race.

It was that victory that launched a career that would include the 2000 series championship.

But opportunities started to slip away over the next decade, and Lazier started to end up in one-off rides and abbreviated deals. So when things went sour in 2009, he decided to step away.

It was the right decision at the time, he said.

Now is the right time to come back.

"This track hasn't changed much," said Lazier, who has always been considered one of the more cerebral drivers in the field. "I was kind of there at the beginning of the development of the shift-without-lifts and a lot of the electronics in the car now, and I've been really enjoying myself learning all the systems, because it's really fun stuff."

It hasn't been a whole lot of fun for his team.

Crew chief Dennis LaCava stepped into the garage to work on the car for the first time less than a week before practice began. His cobbled-together team squeezed about 20 days' worth of work into 10, and somehow got Lazier into the middle of the last row for Sunday's race.

"We did everything we could," LaCava said. "We all wish we would have run faster, but there wasn't a lot of time and when you start looking at the laps we ran, and the time that Buddy's been away, I guess we did pretty fair. What it comes down to is we did what we were supposed to do."

Lazier was still searching for speed on Carb Day, when his fastest lap of 219.167 mph was better only than Pippa Mann, who never really got up to speed because of a vibration early in practice.

But he's quietly confident that things will go better on race day.

"We only had two weeks' notice, basically, so we just got it together, so we didn't get to develop anything, or do any winter projects," Lazier said. "There are just a few areas where you can work these cars, so there's a lot of speed there, and we're already pretty fast without doing any of that. It's exciting to think what could happen if you did do a few projects."

Still, Lazier said that just being back in the shadow of the famed pagoda is a good feeling, and even made a prediction that it wouldn't be another four years before he's back in Indianapolis.

"Obviously, I have a huge desire to drive race cars every day. I love driving," Lazier said. "It would be just economics, and what I need to do at this point for the family, and that could always be adapted, but I think one thing we can look forward to is this team continuing in the months of May."


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