Hamilton not worried about low qualifying position

Tuesday, May 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Davey Hamilton is far enough down the Indianapolis 500 bump list that he's confident he'll keep not only his spot in the lineup but also his unique place in the Indy Racing League record book.

Over the six seasons since the IRL split from the established Championship Auto Racing Teams, Hamilton is the only driver to start each of the new series' 46 races.

``Thank God the streak is still alive,'' he said.

Hamilton has never won an IRL race or even started from the pole. But his durability has kept him on the various tracks a league-record 7,571 laps, or more than 200 laps more than his closest challenger, former Indy and IRL champion Buddy Lazier.

His streak was in jeopardy when he started the season without a ride. But his friendship with Sam Schmidt, a former driver who started his own team after he was paralyzed in a racing accident two years ago, kept the streak going.

``I just lucked out,'' Hamilton said. ``Sam had a lot of drivers available. We've been friends, we both live in Las Vegas, and it just kind of worked out. ... Sam's a racer from the word go, and he can't do it as a driver so this is a great opportunity for him to be involved as an owner.''

Hamilton's best finish in the three races so far this season was 12th in the opener at Phoenix, and he's 15th in the series standings.

The 38-year-old driver, the IRL runner-up in 1997 and 1998, qualified for his sixth Indianapolis 500 at 221.696 mph, tentatively putting him 31st in the lineup on the inside of the 11th and final row.

But there is still one more spot to fill in the 33-car lineup. And seven others who qualified at slower speeds than Hamilton would have to be bumped in the final round of qualifications on Sunday in order to keep Hamilton out.

That's not likely to happen.

``We were trying so hard to get that team together without sponsorship. This is what it is all about. All the others (races) are warm-ups for the Indy 500,'' said Hamilton, whose best finishes at Indy were sixth in 1997, when he drove for A.J. Foyt, and fourth in 1998, with Nienhouse Motorsports.

He finished 11th and 20th the past two years.

``My goal was to make the Indy 500, but my next one is to win this race and then the championship,'' he said. ``Thank God we're in, and we're in with a decent speed. I feel better than I ever have as a race driver. I've got the confidence, but you've got to have the equipment and the funding.

``I've got guys who have won so many races trying to help me get in this race. That is so special,'' he added, referring to team advisers Gary Bettenhausen, Bill Vukovich and his father Kenny Hamilton, all former drivers.

The slowest in the field _ and first on the bump list _ is two-time Indy runner-up Roberto Guerrero at 220.054 mph, almost 6 mph slower than pole-starter Scott Sharp.

Tyce Carlson, who has started twice but did not race last year after he suffered a concussion in practice, is next on the bump list at 220.480. The others who would be bumped before Hamilton _ in order _ are Airton Dare; rookies Didier Andre, Shigeaki Hattori and Felipe Giaffone, and two-time winner Al Unser Jr.

Dare, Hattori and Carlson have other cars in line in case they decide to withdraw and try to qualify again on Sunday. The only others waiting for a chance to get in the lineup are Jim Guthrie, Steve Knapp, Billy Boat, Jimmy Kite, Stephan Gregoire, Eliseo Salazar and rookies Memo Gidley, Cory Witherill and Casey Mears.