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 Tuesday, February 1
Buhl slips past Cheever to win season opener
Associated Press

 LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Traffic was the last thing race leader Eddie Cheever wanted. And it was exactly what Robbie Buhl needed to win for the first time in almost three years.

Cheever, the two-time and defending winner, was within two laps of winning again Saturday at Walt Disney World Speedway. Then he got bogged down by slower cars.

Robbie Buhl
Robbie Buhl makes his winning pass on Eddie Cheever with two laps remaining Saturday.

That allowed Buhl to win the Delphi Indy 200, the opening race of the Indy Racing League season. It was the second victory of his career.

"We had a good race," Buhl said. "Cheever was being aggressive ... but we knew if we just kept up with him we could get it.

The race came down to a three-car shootout in heavy traffic for the final 27 laps on the mile tri-oval just outside Disney's Magic Kingdom.

In the closing laps, Buhl was behind Buddy Lazier and Cheever. With 10 laps to go, Cheever forced Lazier up the track in turn two. The 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner had to back off, giving up the lead.

One lap later, Buhl drove his G Force-Aurora past Lazier and moved up behind Cheever.

"We were all holding our own," said Buhl, who started 22nd in the 26-car field. "I wasn't losing any ground. If there was no traffic it would have held that way.

"But that's not what racing on the oval is all about. There is no strategy at the end. It was just a matter of waiting for the traffic, and then Eddie got bogged down."

It was on lap 199 that Cheever got blocked and lost the lead.

"I wanted to put a car between Robbie and me," the 1998 Indy 500 winner said. "I saw a blue car ... and he kept drifting up and up. And I thought he was going to put me into the wall."

Lazier also got past the faltering Cheever and Buhl, who averaged 102.292 mph in the race slowed by eight caution flags. He finished 3.165 seconds ahead of Lazier's Riley & Scott-Aurora. Cheever, also in a Riley & Scott, powered by the only Infiniti engine in the race, was third.

Buhl led a race-high 48 of the 200 laps.

"I was just thinking how I'm going to get by Eddie," he said. "It was just a matter of waiting for traffic and who was going to be hung up in traffic."

Lazier and Cheever both were upset about what they considered blocking by some lapped cars, including those of rookies Sam Hornish Jr. and Doug Didero, each making his first IRL star.

"It robbed us of a really good race," Lazier said. "It robbed us of an honest finish."

Lazier, who led only five laps in the entire 1999 season, was out front for 47 laps after taking the lead from Robby McGehee during a restart on lap 145. He then worked hard to hold off Cheever while Buhl was positioning himself in third.

The final caution bunched the drivers for a restart on lap 183. On lap 191 Cheever ducked inside Lazier's car and just about pushed Lazier into the wall before taking the lead.

It appeared Cheever had the race locked up until he was forced to slam the brakes because of the slow-moving car that suddenly appeared.

"I was really relishing those last 10 laps," he said. "It's really annoying. I don't know who it was. I go to pass him on the bottom and he cuts me off."

Cheever, who came close to getting a first IRL win for engine manufacturer Infiniti and the American-built Riley & Scott chassis, added: "I've had Buhl behind me before and I don't like."

In Buhl's only other IRL win, in the 1997 race in Loudon, N.H., Buhl passed Cheever, who had a gearbox failure.

"That's why I tried to pass that car," Cheever said.

The field had no track time Friday because rain canceled qualifying and forced the IRL to line up the cars by last year's team owner points. The track was still too wet Saturday morning for a warmup.

Defending series champion Greg Ray, who started from the pole, led the first 46 laps. On lap 138, his gearbox cost him a long pit stop. He finished 180 laps and wound up 17th.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser's debut was cut short by an engine problem. Unser, who started 24th because team owner Rick Galles had no points in the IRL last year, rallied to ninth place before his day was ended after 64 laps.

"You always have a good time when you're passing people and you've got a good car," said Unser, a two-time champion in the rival CART series.

Two drivers were taken by ambulance to hospitals after one-car crashes.

Davey Hamilton, the only driver to start every IRL race since the series began in 1996, slightly fractured his back and was expected to be released Saturday.

Jaques Lazier, Buddy's younger brother, also fractured his back. He was admitted to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

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 Robbie Buhl shoots past Eddie Cheever for the lead.
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 Robbie Buhl talks about winning the Delphi Indy 200.
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 Eddie Cheever talks about losing the lead to Robbie Buhl.
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