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OPEN-WHEEL MERGER IS RIGHT ON TRACK

MAKING NEWS

A possible unification of America's two open-wheel series is still pending, with both sides saying progress is being made. David Higdon, Champ Car World Series spokesman, said discussions are "heating up. ... As long as everyone is still talking, there's hope." Fred Nation, a spokesman for the Indy Racing League, said officials were "optimistic." Both sides have struggled for fans, sponsors and TV ratings since the IRL, founded by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, began competition in 1995, competing against the established CART series.

Two-sport pioneer Howsam dies

Bob Howsam, the man who gave baseball its Big Red Machine and Denver its beloved Broncos, died Tuesday in Sun City, Ariz. He was 89. Mr. Howsam helped found the American Football League in 1959 and was principal owner of the Broncos before his family sold the team in 1961. He became general manager of the Reds in 1967 and helped build one of the game's greatest teams, which won the 1975 and '76 World Series behind Pete Rose and Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez.

out of bounds

Clearly, a streak-free shine!

A "silly" accident will cost Astros outfielder Hunter Pence about a week of spring training. Pence, one of Houston's best hitters as a rookie last season, had cuts and lacerations on his hands and knees after he fell through a glass door at his Kissimmee home. Pence and a friend were using a hot tub when Pence got up to go to the bathroom. Not knowing his friend had closed the sliding door, Pence walked into it, shattering the glass. "It's pretty silly to have this kind of freak accident happen," he said. "I didn't think I would go through a glass door."

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Shaq set to debut tonight for Suns

Shaquille O'Neal, who has been working his way back into game shape since being traded two weeks ago from the Miami Heat to Phoenix, is expected to start tonight against his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. The game will be televised at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Weekend tourney off to early start

The Match Play Championship, with a purse of $8-million, begins today in Marana, Ariz. It will air from 2-6 p.m. on the Golf Channel.

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"I have to hunt for a parking space just like everyone else. And they still charge $50 for parking tickets. I know that."

Vince Young, former Texas quarterback, saying he gets no perks when he returns to school to complete his degree

LIGHTNING

Tonight

at Sabres, 7, HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV/radio: Ch.66; 620-AM

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