IRL: Hornish hangs on to win in Kansas

Despite being thoroughly dominant for a second straight race, Sam Hornish Jr. had to fend off a late race challenge from Dan Wheldon. But Hornish delivered and won his second consecutive event to capture the IndyCar Series points lead from his teammate Helio Castroneves. Hornish led over 150 laps in the aptly named Kansas Lottery Indy 300, where the last 15 laps were a shootout following a rash of late race accidents.

Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves.
Photo by Chris Jones - IRL.
The first 30 laps were relatively uneventful until Castroneves spun and crashed into the turn three barriers on lap 38. The Brazilian got loose but only damaged his rear wing. Master strategist Tim Cindric brought Castroneves down pit lane several times to repair it without losing a lap. As the race progressed, he would eventually return to the fray.

The second caution flew on lap 91 for debris, with the second pit stops occurring. Scott Dixon took the lead but was repassed on the track by Hornish once the green returned. There was a long green run after that point and Hornish basically drove away, with Wheldon the only one able to catch a glimpse of the Marlboro Dallara-Honda.

The final pit stops occurred under green starting on lap 150 when Hornish stopped. It appeared Wheldon had reversed his demons of late, giving the Penske driver a taste of his own medicine. Wheldon's stop was quicker and he resumed in the lead. As usual though, just as in Indianapolis and Texas, fate intervened once Wheldon took over the point.

Scott Sharp crashed in the same spot as Castroneves on lap 168, wiping out Wheldon's 1.2-second lead. "The left rear broke and collapsed," Sharp commented. "I thought I could save it, but it just went. We had a real hard time today." Only two laps after the restart Buddy Rice had the same issues, crashing in turn three amidst a gaggle of cars. Marco Andretti and Jeff Simmons had to take evasive action but emerged unscathed.

"It's disappointing," Rice said. "We've torn up enough stuff this year and it keeps happening." The Rahal Letterman team seems to have an affinity for the barriers, as Simmons has crashed out of four starts this season. Danica Patrick has not yet hit the concrete this season and remains steady and reliable at least, if not at the front of the field since the team switched to the Dallara chassis.

Dan Wheldon and Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Steve Snoddy - IRL.
On the lap 183 restart Hornish caught and passed Wheldon, but the Briton stayed close behind. With five laps to go, Wheldon and Hornish were side-by-side with the race in doubt. But with two to go Wheldon dropped back into Hornish's slipstream and out of contention, the Defiance, Ohio native scoring his third win of the season.

Behind them, though the battle was not shown on television, Vitor Meira continued his streak as the best driver this season not from Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi's teams. He and Dixon passed an ailing Tony Kanaan in the closing stages to finish 3rd through 5th. Meira has three podiums this year, is 5th in points (first among drivers not from Penske or Ganassi) and is regularly giving the contenders a run for their money. It's time somebody steps up and gives theirs to sponsor this hard-charging Brazilian.

Castroneves was up to 4th by lap 168, but pitted on the last caution for tires and more downforce. He finished 6th, but at least made something out of a day that nearly went completely wrong.

There were several items of note from this race. It is Hornish's 27th birthday today, so the best possible present has been attained. Also, Hornish's wife Crystal first wore a pair of Rock & Republic jeans at Indianapolis, wore them again at Richmond and then again today. There is something about that pair of denim that has helped Sam Hornish this season. On the losing end, Wheldon must wait another race before he can shave. He has to keep good on his promise of not firing up his razor until he wins.