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Chicago race: Lazier's win, Hornish takes title

Jaques Lazier motored past Felipe Giaffone with 25 laps remaining and held on to win Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Sam Hornish Jr finished second and won the IRL season title. The 22-year-old driver from Defiance, Ohio wrapped up the $1million championship and became the youngest champion of a major racing open-wheel series.

"You are the champion, buddy," team owner John Barnes radioed to Hornish, who was 1.4609 seconds behind Lazier.

"Great job, guys, great job all year long," Hornish said back from his Dallara-Infiniti.

Buddy Lazier, Hornish's nearest competitor, finished 11th and trails Hornish by 66 points with one race remaining. The most points a driver can earn in any race is 52.

"We've had a great run this year," Hornish said, who nine times this season has finished in the top three. "They put me out in race cars that were spectacular. We ran up front, I had a car that was consistent and I finished a lot of races. We're really happy to be in the position we are at."

Eddie Cheever was third followed by Jeff Ward and Donnie Beechler.

On a day when he won his first Indy car race, Jaques Lazier didn't mind sharing the spotlight with Hornish.

"It does not bother me a bit," said Lazier, who pocketed $137,700 and won at an average speed of 172.146 miles per hour. "What is shows is we have some young guns coming into the series that are very anxious to go out there and win some races and win a championship. I think it was a real good day for myself as well as Panther Racing and Team Menard. For us to have a win here today and for them to win a championship, obviously I'd rather the title go to my brother (Buddy).

"We're going to carry this momentum for the rest of this year and into next year. Look out for Team Menard next year, we're going after the championship."

The leaders pitted on lap 166 of the 200-lap race and Giaffone was first out of the pits. He was in front when the green flag waved 27 laps from the finish, but Jaques Lazier caught him two laps later.

Giaffone's car began to vibrate with seven laps left, allowing Hornish to pass him for second. Giaffone's engine blew up with two laps left and he finished 10th. Lazier, who started on the pole in only his second race for Team Menard, claimed his first IRL win by putting the car up front. He replaced 1999 IRL champion Greg Ray as the driver at Team Menard after Ray was fired two weeks ago.

In front of a sellout crowd of nearly 75,000, Jaques Lazier jumped out to a good lead at the green flag, with Hornish lurking in fourth place.

Hornish passed Eddie Cheever for third on lap 19, Robbie Buhl for second on lap 20 and began a side-by-side duel with Jaques Lazier for the lead on lap 22. Lazier was able to maintain the lead before Scott Sharp crashed in the second turn on lap 30.

Hornish led when the race restarted on lap 40 after quick work by his pit crew got him out front. Two laps later, Giaffone made an attempt for the lead and the rookie raced side by side with Hornish for six full laps before making the pass on lap 48.

Buhl took the lead on lap 59, passing the Brazilian on the backstretch. Buhl dropped out of the race with a vibration problem in his G-Force-Infiniti on lap 100.

Giaffone was behind Lazier at the halfway point but took the lead when he went three-wide on lap 115.

A yellow flag for debris waved on lap 124 and the field pitted under caution. The green flag was back six laps later, with Giaffone leading Jaques Lazier, Hornish and Eliseo Salazar.

Lazier passed Giaffone for the lead on lap 133 and was in front when another caution flag flew as Salazar drove up the track in the third turn and crashed into Mark Dismore on lap 163. Dismore was able to continue and Salazar was uninjured.

But it was Lazier who ended up making his team owner look like a genius by getting a victory in his second start for Team Menard.

"This was something that just came together perfectly," team owner John Menard said. "You have to remember that Jaques has been racing in this series for several years and this is not his first race. It all came together a lot quicker than if we got a guy from Formula 1 who had never raced on an oval.

"We have a very talented team and a very talented driver. Under the right circumstances, it can come together quickly and we are very fortunate that it did. We had a lot of luck today, too. There were several instances where my heart nearly stopped in the pits."

Lazier was able to drive aggressive when he needed to, but remain patient. He had to keep his cool on two occasions, once when he was trying to pass Ricky Treadway's lapped car. Treadway did not see Lazier and the wheels from both cars came dangerously close to touching.

The second occasion came on the three-wide move into the first turn in the battle for the lead.

"It depends on who you are with," Lazier said. "Typically, the drivers that are out here, it's no big deal because you know everybody will give you room. We had one time where we went three-abreast in Turn 1 and I thought, it was early in the race and I was going to back out of it. It's a long race, you have to pace yourself. We had a tremendous car today and it seems like everything I did went right."

It was the ninth time a driver won an IRL race from the pole position. He was the fourth driver to earn his first IRL win while driving for Team Menard. He joins Tony Stewart, Robbie Buhl and Greg Ray in that category.

"This is a tremendous moment for myself, for my career and for my family," Lazier said. "My father is extremely proud to have two Laziers cement wins in what I believe is the greatest racing series in America today. I can't thank John Menard enough for believing in me.

"I have found a home at Team Menard and this is the first of many wins with the team."

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