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Chicagoland post-race notebook

Buddy Lazier fought hard to defend his IRL championship, becoming the first driver in series history to win four races in a season. But, two weekends of bad luck allowed Sam Hornish Jr to clinch the IRL championship Sunday.

Lazier finished 11th in a race won by his younger brother, Jaques.

"We had a miscue in the pits," Lazier said. "We came in to pit, and we were really on schedule. We really struggled all day. It was a long hard day; we struggled hard. We had moments where the car came alive, but we really struggled today. We had a lot of really good races this season and finally got within striking distance of the championship, and then we just had two terrible weekends in a row."

Although Lazier never gave up the fight, he realised Hornish was going to have to have some terrible luck to have any hope at winning the championship.

"It wasn't a good shot, but it was a shot," Lazier said. "You never give up hope. We tried very hard, and I think my team did a super job defending the championship. You look at our record this year, every race we either won or experienced some pretty significant troubles.

"Second in the championship is not a bad thing for how many failures we've had this year. We've only dropped out of one or two races. We finished races with significant problems half the time. I look at four or five races where we were limping home, and I think that's the difference. We won four races, more races than anybody."



A major step in the further progress of the Indy Racing League was announced prior to Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 as ABC and ESPN have agreed to expand their partnership with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through 2007.

Under terms of the agreement, the three partners are committed to telecast and promote the Indy Racing League as their exclusive American open-wheel racing series for the term of the contract.

"Our 36-year partnership with ABC Sports is one of the great traditions of the Indianapolis 500," said Tony George, president and CEO of both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League. "The combination of ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 gives us the best broadcasting and cable platform in American television to carry America's premier open-wheel, oval-track series.

"We are proud to be energetic partners with ABC and the ESPN networks in bringing our exciting brand of Indy Racing to the broadest and most extensive audience in American open-wheel racing."

Last month, ABC and ESPN chose not to renew its television contract with the rival CART series, saying "the IRL has much better growth potential." CART entered into a television arrangement with CBS and Fox, where CART buys the television time and produces the telecasts in house. However, CBS will only show up to seven CART races "schedule permitting" while the rest of the schedule will be on SpeedVision, which has less than half the subscribers of ESPN and ESPN2.

Fox will produce the telecasts on CBS and the Fox affiliate, SpeedVision, but no CART events will be televised on Fox.

"Growing the relationship between ABC Sports and the Indianapolis 500 has always been one of our top priorities, and we have been very pleased with the growth of the event under the current contract," said Howard Katz, president of ABC Sports. "We are excited about the potential of growing the Indy Racing League, and this arrangement gives us the ability to put in place long-term strategies that will help to grow both the League and the 500."

ABC and ESPN have pledged full promotional support to the IRL to help increase its popularity.

"The Indy Racing League is the leading American open-wheel racing circuit, based upon the heritage of the Indianapolis 500," said Mark Shapiro, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Programming. "ESPN has chosen to partner with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League as the future of open-wheel racing in the United States."

The new agreement will include more live coverage from Indy Racing League events, including daily programming originating from Indianapolis by ESPN2's "RPM 2Night" during May for the Indianapolis 500 and similar origination programming from several Indy Racing events each year.

"It is very important to the growth of our sport to have more television news reporting of the Indy Racing League, and I am grateful to the ESPN networks for making this commitment," George said.



After suffering crippling leg injuries in a horrifying crash at Texas Motor Speedway in June, Davey Hamilton was at Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 as a spectator as he continues to recover from the injuries.

Hamilton vowed he plans to return to racing once he is completely rehabilitated.

"It's all I've ever done," Hamilton said. "It's all I've ever wanted to do. There's never been a question. I just want to get the feet fixed. I've been around racing since I was two year old. It was really no question mark on what I wanted to do.

"The feet are healing well. Everything is in really good shape."

Hamilton still has several more rounds of surgery on his badly broken legs and feet.

"We're looking forward to going in for more surgery this Wednesday," Hamilton said. "This will be the eighth one, and hopefully the final. There's a lot of steel and rods and stuff in there. They might have to do some adjusting. Hopefully, this will be the final one."

Hamilton's rehabilitation schedule includes visiting a therapist three days per week in a whirlpool tub to help heal the damaged skin and tissue. Two days a week, he goes to a gym to work on upper-body conditioning.

"On my upper body, I'm probably in better shape than I've ever been," Hamilton said. "I'll need upper-body strength to start walking again. Hopefully, that will come in December, when I can get back on my feet and start walking again. They are already doing therapy on my right ankle. Hopefully, we can put weight on it in a couple of weeks.

"More than likely, I'm going to have that Indy car shuffle for a while. The left ankle will be fused. That bothered me that I wasn't going to have an ankle to walk on, but a lot of guys have done it."

Hamilton said he drew inspiration for his team owner, Sam Schmidt, who is paralysed from the neck down after crashing at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000.

"I think the biggest thing he helped me on was after about three weeks in the hospital, Sam came to visit me," Hamilton recalled. "I was whining and complaining for about 20 minutes. When I was finished complaining, he said, `I'll trade you if you want.'

"From that point on, I thought I didn't have it so bad. From that point, I said I'm going to walk again and drive a race car again. It's just going to take a little more time than normal."

Hamilton is targeting the Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway next March as his return to racing.

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