IRL: Chicagoland: Kelly Racing Race report

Unser, Jr. finishes second at Chicagoland in closest finish in Indy Racing League history as Sharp comes home seventh while Renna is plagued with fuel pressure problems. JOLIET, IL -- SEPTEMBER 8, 2002 -- Al Unser, Jr. finished second to ...

Unser, Jr. finishes second at Chicagoland in closest finish in Indy Racing League history as Sharp comes home seventh while Renna is plagued with fuel pressure problems.

JOLIET, IL -- SEPTEMBER 8, 2002 -- Al Unser, Jr. finished second to Sam Hornish, Jr. in the closest finish in Indy Racing League history, .0024 of a second, in the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Just .9387 of a second separated the top 10 cars at the finish in arguably the most exciting race in IRL history.

The final 30 laps of the event saw Unser and Hornish running side by side ahead of their challengers swapping the lead ten times in 25 laps according to official timing and scoring. Behind the two leaders the racing was often times three and four abreast across the line as the laps wound down.

Unser led for over thirty laps the first half of the race. He stayed near the front of the field through the middle portion but made the charge back to the front with less than 30 laps to go.

"I thought I won it," Unser Jr. said with a myriad of emotions bubbling at the surface. "I thought I had it timed just right to get the best run on him off four coming for the checkered. But I didn't and lost it by just a tick. But this had to be one of the most exciting races I have ever run in my entire career. We raced each other wheel to wheel for all those laps and never came close to touching. My crew was again the best there was on pit road today. They gave me great stops and kept me up front all day long. The Firestone tires were perfect. It just doesn't get much better than this, except if we had won!

"We were able to get underneath him, and I was motioning to him to get in line, which he motioned to me to get in line, and I did. I wanted him to do the same, but it was to no avail.

"I tell you, they don't come any closer than that. Congratulations to Sam Hornish Jr. He and the whole Pennzoil team did a great job. It was exciting. I couldn't ask for a better car than my Corteco/Bryant crew gave me today. It was an awesome weekend for us. Racing in the IRL is the best racing in the world, I hope the fans enjoyed it because I know I did."

Scott Sharp's seventh place finish doesn't reflect the tremendous effort put in by driver and the #8 Delphi crew. They fought from his 16th starting spot with great pit stops to put Sharp in the lead from laps 117 to 150.

If not for an ill-timed yellow on lap 154, right after Sharp had made his last green flag pit stop putting him to 11th in the order when racing resumed on lap 166, he would have been dicing up front with Unser and Hornish for the win. The tight competition between the top-ten saw Sharp finish just a blink behind the leaders at the drop of the checkered.

"I had the car maxed out the entire 35 laps to the end of the race coming off the last yellow," said Sharp. "But I was tucked behind cars and I just couldn't get around them. The Kelley Racing crew gave me a fantastic car, it ran perfectly all day, I am just disappointed that I was boxed in at the end, I really wanted to get a victory for Delphi as my long-time sponsor and the title sponsor of the race. It was extremely tough being boxed in at the end. I thought I couple of times I had gotten extremely close to Rice and Meira and we almost touched wheels, but luckily it was a clean and exciting finish.

"Given how much we struggled all weekend during practice and qualifying, we are very satisfied with how we raced and with how strong the car performed the second half of the race. My Delphi crew gave me excellent stops and kept me moving toward the front of the field, it was a total team effort and I am very proud of my guys. That yellow hurt us with regard to track position but the finish was great and I am sure the fans had a great time."

Tony Renna and the crew of the #78 Kruse Special/HomeMed car fought a fuel pressure and fuel pickup problem that first surfaced on lap 53 of the 200-lap event.

Renna charged up through the field from his 17th starting spot to run as high as fifth before the problem ended his day on lap 153 when Airton Dare and Renna made contact as Dare attempted to swerve the slowing Renna.

"We had ourselves positioned right where we needed to be for the end of the race," said a dejected Renna. " Everyone else needed to pit, and we were in place for a good finish, but we had that nagging fuel pressure problem all day. It is disappointing for our Kruse/HomeMed team because we had a great handling car with awesome power. I feel bad that other cars were involved when our problem occurred. I hope everyone is going to be OK."

Unser Jr. sits sixth in series point standings with 301 points while Sharp is in seventh spot with 300 points as the Kelley Racing teams head for the final event of the 2002 season next weekend for the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

-kr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Tony Renna , Sam Hornish Jr. , Al Unser