Hornish takes Championship lead with Chicago victory, leads Chevy podium sweep. JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 8, 2002 -- Chevrolet driver Sam Hornish Jr. took a narrow lead in the race for the Indy Racing League championship after winning by inches today...
Hornish takes Championship lead with Chicago victory, leads Chevy podium sweep.
JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 8, 2002 -- Chevrolet driver Sam Hornish Jr. took a narrow lead in the race for the Indy Racing League championship after winning by inches today in the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish edged Al Unser Jr. at the finish line by .0024 seconds, the closest finish in IRL history. He will take a 12-point advantage (481-469) over fourth-place finisher Helio Castroneves into the Chevy 500 season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 15. Buddy Lazier was third across the stripe to complete Chevy's 12th podium sweep of the season.
Hornish and the Pennzoil Panther team ran the table and pocketed 52 championship points, the maximum possible. Hornish won the pole with his Chevrolet-powered Dallara with a track-record speed of 222.867 mph, led 102 of 200 laps to earn a two-point bonus, and scored his series-leading fourth victory of the season.
"I couldn't ask for anything more from Chevrolet," said Hornish. "They gave us two great motors. We ran one in practice and qualifying, and the second in the race.
"Chevy's connection with Speedway Engines has given us a lot this year," he continued. "No matter where we've raced, things have worked out really well. We've got power on the low end for the short tracks and plenty of horsepower for these big ovals. Chevrolet has produced engines this year that are capable of winning, so it's up to me to make the right decisions."
Hornish made the risky decision to race side-by-side with Unser for the final 32 laps. With scant inches between their open wheels, the pair swapped the lead lap after lap. Ten cars thundered to the checkered flag in two-by-two formation on the last lap, separated by less than one second.
"It was the most exciting race I've been in in my life," said Unser, who was runner-up to Jeff Ward in the previous closest finish. "We just came up short again. I honestly thought that we won the race, it was that close. We ran hard, we ran fair, we ran super clean."
Lazier agreed: "That was close -- real close. I wasn't sure who won either. It was a lot of fun out there, but it sure was hair-raising."
Lazier started 22nd in the 25-car field, but he worked his way to the front with a combination of speed and an out-of-sequence pit stop strategy. He made his bid for victory with an outside move in the last corner, but had to relent at the last second.
"We were three abreast, Sam started coming up, and I had to get out of it at the end," Lazier reported.
Castroneves, the points leader coming into Chicago, started 21st, but he steadily worked his way through the field and took the lead on lap 159 with a quick pit stop by the Penske Racing team. He led eight laps and finished fourth.
Gil de Ferran, second in the standings at the start of the race, sustained a concussion in a single-car accident on lap 52. He was transported to a hospital for examination, and was reported to be awake, alert and stable. He is third in the standings with 443 markers, 38 behind Hornish.
The Chevy 500 season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 15 will be the final shootout for the IRL championship. The 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile high-banked oval in Fort Worth will be televised live on ABC at 3 p.m. EDT.