Sam Hornish Jr. won tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. He dominated the evening, taking the lead from teammate Helio Castroneves on lap 39 and never relinquishing it for the remainder of the 250 lap...
Sam Hornish Jr. won tonight's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. He dominated the evening, taking the lead from teammate Helio Castroneves on lap 39 and never relinquishing it for the remainder of the 250 lap contest.
"We had a great race all the way from the beginning," Hornish said. "Our focus for tonight was to make sure that we ran a calm, clean race - to make sure we don't get into any problems out there. The last two years we either got hit or I got a little bit of aggressiveness going and spun out.
"Tonight, right from the start we had a little bit faster car than Helio, and we wanted to save a little bit of fuel, and see if we could make it to the end - see if we could make it in one stop. The way things worked out, that didn't really happen. But we just had a great car. Only a couple of times did we get stuck in traffic where we couldn't get around guys.
"Traffic was probably the toughest thing that I faced all night, but the Marlboro Team Penske crew did an awesome job for me. I couldn't ask for anything more. The car handled phenomenally, and we're really looking forward to going to Kansas."
This was Hornish's 16th Indy car victory. It was the 127th win for his car owner, Roger Penske. Penske, who was a champion-caliber driver before advancing to team owner, likes to call the shots from the pits. "I think if they threw me out of the pit box I might get out of this sport," Penske said. "This is a lot of fun. It keeps me motivated, and I get a chance to work with Sam. Since he joined the team he's just done a great job."
Hornish has come to appreciate Penske's style and race strategy.
"I learned last year a couple of times," Hornish said, "here and at Indy, both times I backed up in the race, and I went against what Roger was telling me to do. I learned from that point on to listen to Roger - whatever he says I'm going to do."
Vitor Meira was second, taking the position with a brilliant pass under Dario Franchitti in the front straight dogleg with five laps to go. Franchitti, who was dealing with another car on the high side, gave Meira all the room he could, while Meira put two wheels below the yellow line to clear Franchitti.
"I have to thank Dario," Meira said after the race. He could have chopped me off, and he was really professional. He left me extra room to do that.
"I think we had the best car in the field," Meira continued. "We got hurt on our pit stops, but we drove back to the front. I think we passed most of the cars. I've never driven a better short oval car in my life. It's awesome. We just have to tune a little bit to get the win. But we are as competitive as anyone else.
Franchitti, who ran second for most of the final 100 laps, settled for third place. He had no issue with Meira's banzai pass, but thought race officials could have given him more help with lapped traffic.
"I wasn't upset about that," Franchitti said. "Vitor did a great job. He was much quicker than I was. I got held up in traffic. He made a good move. What was upsetting me was that Sam was getting the blue flag to help him get through traffic. It appears that the Klein Tools/Canadian Club car was invisible to the flagman. There were no blue flags all night, no help at all from the flagstand. The backmarkers did more to help me than they did.
"(But) I have a great time here at Richmond. Apart from my fault with the flagstand, I had a wonderful time and really enjoy racing here."
Rookie Marco Andretti had a good evening, never falling out of the top five and finishing fourth. "I'm very happy to have finished this race," Andretti said, "because with about 20 laps to go I almost lost it. The NYSE car was pretty good, but it was also a handful at times. Once again, the NYSE boys did a good job all weekend."
Scott Sharp, whose team gained momentum this weekend, ran in second and third place for a large part of the race and rounded out the top five. "It was a good day for the Delphi team," Sharp said. "There was a time there in the first part of the race where I thought we were one of the fastest cars on the track, but I was stuck behind Helio and couldn't get by him. Had I been able to get by him, I think I could have gone up and raced with Sam. I don't know about passing, but at least raced with him.
"After our last pit stop, for some reason the car just tightened up. I am not sure what happened. I had to move my weightjacker all the way over, and still I was just grinding the fronts. The car just wouldn't rotate for me. When the car won't turn, there is really nothing else you can do.
"Still, we have two top fives in a row, and the team is doing a really great job. We certainly are on a bit of a roll right now, and hopefully we can keep it going at Kansas."
The race was run at a record pace of 129.5 mph, besting the previous Richmond record of 114.5 mph. There were four yellow flag periods, for a total of 34 laps. This is a new record, bettering the previous best of five caution periods for a total of 58 laps. Only one caution was for wall contact. Jeff Simmons, making room for faster cars through Turns one and two, got into the grey and slid into the wall. Simmons was not injured in the incident.
Two yellows were for debris. The final yellow occurred with four laps to go, when Helio Castroneves's right rear tire blew.
Castroneves had led the first 38 laps of the race and stayed in the top three for most of the evening. With less than 20 laps to go, pressure in his right rear tire fell, and he quickly dropped to seventh place. The tire finally let go on lap 246. He kept the car away from the wall, and stayed out so as to not lose his championship position. The race finished under yellow.
"We definitely had enough to come away with a top three finish," Castroneves said, "but we lost a rear tire with a few laps to go. Thankfully, I was able to hang onto the car."
Castroneves's misfortune dropped him to a final position of eleventh. His decision to stay on the track, right rear dragging the ground and left front up in the air, earned him enough points to hang onto the lead in the championship. Teammate Hornish holds second place, just four points behind.
The next IRL IndyCar Series race will be at Kansas Speedway on July 2nd. It will be telecast live on ABC-TV at 1:00 PM EDT.