American Buddy Lazier completed the Indy Racing League season as a champion here Sunday
Goodyear goes out a winner but Lazier wins IRL title

FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct 15 (AFP) - Canada's Scott Goodyear went into retirement as a winner, but American Buddy Lazier completed the Indy Racing League season as a champion here Sunday after the campaign's final race.

Goodyear won the seasn-ending Excite 500 here Sunday while Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, finished fourth to capture the IRL season crown.

Lazier, who needed to finish no worse than 14th to seal the series title after the ninth and final race.

"This is huge," Lazier said. "This is really big. When you win the Indy 500, it takes nearly a year for it to sink in. It's such a huge feat. It starts to justify this crazy passion that becomes a career. All of the sudden, when you win the Indy 500, it solidifies you and makes your career respectful.

"It's going to be interesting when this sinks in, how it feels. Winning the Indy 500 is a hard thing and it's huge. I would have to say the championship is just below it. I can't think of anything that's even close to either one. This is the culmination of a lot of hard years of work. I'm hoping this is the beginning of great things to come."

An exciting eight-lap dash to the checkered flag involving Goodyear, Eddie Cheever and Billy Boat ended with Goodyear holding off Cheever and Boat to win in his final race for Panther Racing, defeating Cheever by .140 seconds. Boat was third, followed by Lazier and Chile's Eliseo Salazar.

It was the fastest race in IRL history as Goodyear won at an average speed of 175.276 mph to take 123,700 dollars.

"I'm obviously very pleased," Goodyear said. "This was probably a great show for the fans. I dealt with some traffic there for a little while, which didn't help. But the guys gave me a good car.

"We went high, we went low. It was really wheel to wheel. We kept working Eddie Cheever. It's nice to go wheel to wheel with someone you can trust."

Pole sitter Greg Ray was last in the 28-car field. Al Unser Jnr was in front until Goodyear passed him on lap 34, thrilling a crowd of 60,000.

"There were times out there I thought Buddy Lazier was nuts," Goodyear said. "It wasn't four abreast like we had out there in the first race this year and when that happens, everybody knows the low line is the place to be. A couple of times, we were down on the grass. I was surprised that Buddy was that aggressive. He drove as hard as he could.

"Sometimes, trying to stay out of trouble doesn't work and maybe it's better to go out there and just run your race."

Lazier officially clinched the championship 18 laps from the finish when it was impossible for Goodyear to become the lap leader in the race.

"It really made me feel good to know we had won because that left me free to really go out and try to win the race," Lazier said. "When they radioed that I won the championship, I radioed back, 'You mean if I come back with no wheels, we still win the championship?' They said yes.

"I don't know if I could have won the race. We did make a hard charge."

A restart on lap 200 came with with Cheever leading Goodyear, Billy Boat and Lazier. Those drivers battled it out over the final eight laps with Goodyear coming out on top.

"Buddy won a couple of races this year and we won one," Goodyear said. "We had a couple races this year that didn't go very well. In the end result, I'm glad that he won it because he drove like a champion."