IRL: Chicagoland: Top-three press conference, part II

Delphi Indy 300, Chicagoland Speedway Post-race press conference Sept. 7, 2003 Sam Hornish Jr. (winner) Scott Dixon (second) Bryan Herta (third) Part 2 of 2. Q: Take us through that last lap in your own words. Sam Hornish Jr.: I knew that...

Delphi Indy 300, Chicagoland Speedway
Post-race press conference
Sept. 7, 2003
Sam Hornish Jr. (winner)
Scott Dixon (second)
Bryan Herta (third)

Part 2 of 2.

Q: Take us through that last lap in your own words.

Sam Hornish Jr.: I knew that Scott had a fast race car. I knew being on the outside, when you run side by side with somebody, even if you're the fastest car on the racetrack, that car is like a 10th-place car on the side of you, you both slow down because you're kicking air back and forth off each other, really slows you down. The guy in third place can use, especially when the first two cars are running side by side, real close together, can use that big pocket of air. You can get a really good draft. That's how I got up and was able to go around the outside. You really get a slingshot going. I knew that Bryan had picked that lower line. I knew I had to stay right beside him and hope Scott didn't try to go for the outside because it was hardly enough to make it through. That is close, yeah (laughter). I knew that it was going to be real close. You just hope that you have enough room and you can stay out of trouble there. It's really exciting because you know that the fans are getting, you know, the show of a lifetime. But it's kind of nerve-wracking sometimes because you know you're either going to win or lose by a couple inches or feet. It's exciting, but it's nerve-wracking.

Q: After that finish, any thoughts of going into the Blue Angels?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I don't know. They have a big fall. We have walls. I guess it's probably about as dangerous either direction.

Q: When the season started out, you were somewhat behind the eight ball, but now while you have the eight ball in sight, you're about ready to put it in the corner pocket. Talk about how you had to fight through the season?

Sam Hornish Jr.: It's just really a tribute to the guys at Pennzoil Panther Racing. They've done such a great job this year. Like I said before, not only were they preparing the Generation III car, they were also all the same guys working on getting the Generation IV car on the track, up to speed, reliable, competitive. They didn't really hire any more guys. So those guys were working another 30 hours a week. They just really pulled it together. Now that we have the power, we worked hard on our setups, everybody pulled together. When we had cars that weren't capable of winning this year, we stayed there, stayed in the draft, picked off the people that had problems, and just tried to be as consistent as we could. Now that we've got the horsepower, we can make some things happen for us, you know, take some more chances than what we did earlier in the year. It's coming down to the wire. I think it's probably one of the closest, you know, points battles in the history of the IRL. Last year was really tight. We came into this race, the top three guys were separated by eight points. It's going to be tough. It's anybody's race to win or lose or championship to win or lose. I think we're going to need a lot of luck. We're going to need some, you know, bad luck on other people's parts. While we don't wish them bad luck, we're going to go out there, try to beat them, do the best we can. The difference between second and fifth in the points is a lot. Just the same as if you can't get first, you've got to try to get second. You don't want to be fifth best. We're not going to give up yet.

Q: Earlier in the race, you got outside, then it looked like you backed away and reconsidered it.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Partially, I reconsidered it. I just wanted to see if the car would stick up there. I let off so I could get back in. These cars, you can run close to each other, you can run right up behind. When you go from having no air on your car, having all your own air to dirty air, that's what really moves the cars around. I wanted to make sure when I came back in behind him that I, you know, didn't do it real fast and make the car go loose, especially with how close I was up to the wall. I basically wanted to see if it would work because I ended up using it later on in the race, two, three and four, to get back up there and get beside Bryan for the last three-lap shoot-out. I don't know if I would have been brave enough to try it that last little bit of the race, not knowing if it was going to work. I tried it and kind of stepped up there a couple times during the race just to see if it was still clean enough while there wasn't that many cars around, where if I had to let off, I could let off, get back in line, regroup, go back up to it.

Q: How do you account for a race with that kind of great racing, so many people bunched up, very few incidents?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I think it really goes to show the respect we have for each other. I think there's more clowning around that goes on after the race is over or before the race, during practice, than what actually does in the race. We know we have to make it 298 miles before you can do the last lap and a half. We know it's a long race. The cars are set up very equally by the rules that the IRL has. It's more about -- one of the things Brian (Barnhart) says all the time in driver's meetings, it's all about positioning yourself for the last five laps, then you can duke it out after that. It's tough to do because you're sitting there, you see a couple guys straighten out, they get going, they're pulling away a little bit, so you want to get up there and be right behind them.

I like to stay up there towards the front because, you know, if something does happen, you have less of a chance of getting collected in it. If nothing happens all day long, then you're right there. You get to really test out your car against the guys you're going to race against at the end of the race.

Q: You're the first driver in IRL history to crack double digits in career victories. I know that was important to you a couple weeks ago when you won at Kentucky. Now you're extending your lead. Talk about that.

Sam Hornish Jr.: I'm really happy that things have worked out the way that they have. The 10 victories in the time I've been running for Panther Racing has just been phenomenal that we've been able to work together so well. I wish more of them were runaway wins than, you know, finishing side by side every race that we go to. I mean, that's tough racing. I think that really just shows how well we work together. Even with all the adversity we've had over the past couple weeks, things that are going on, we're all still focused on winning these races, doing the best we can. We know there's still a lot of championship points to be had yet, and we're going to try to get as many of them as we can.

Q: (Inaudible)?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I don't know. I hate to lose, so I try to win as many races as I can. I can't stand it, especially when I know that I did something wrong, not to be able to win the race. I think they deserve to win as much as I do. They've done a great job. As far as you said about not getting to make an offer, there's some times when you're growing up, you've got a hero, a couple heroes, let's say you're a baseball fan, every morning your favorite player has played for the Yankees, you get an opportunity to play for the Yankees, even though you're playing for somebody else, what are you going to do? You're going to go do that because you want to put yourself beside that. There's only so many ways you can do it. Like I said, I might not ever win an Indianapolis 500. So the next way you put yourself next to a Rick Mears is driving for the same guy he drove his whole career for.

Q: All three of the last three races are on horsepower tracks. Do you almost kind of feel like you're going to be able to pass the other four guys here before the end?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I don't know. It's going to be a heck of a mix-up. I don't know what the points are. Only being 41 out of first, it can't be too much. Everybody is always kind of stacked together. I think the big thing about these next two races is staying out of trouble because it's getting towards the end of the year. People are going to take chances that they wouldn't have taken at Miami or Phoenix. Kind of stay out of trouble, be there for the end of those races. You know, of course, being two tracks that we won at last year, Panther Racing has this record, they've won the last three races at Texas in the season finale. It's stuff that we already think we've got a good shot at it. We just have to get there and be there at the end of those races. A lot was said this year about the engine manufacturers having a problem with what happened. They gave a whole bunch more horsepower than we had. I think today sums it up about the best you can. You had all three engine manufacturers going across the line right there side by side. You set it up a different way, it might not have worked out that way. I'm really proud Chevrolet has done what they've done, given us all the support they have this year. They really beared down and made sure we had what we needed to be able to go out there and compete - not to just compete for the top three, but also win races.

Q: Is this high-speed racing what the IRL is all about?

Sam Hornish Jr.: I mean, it is much different than places like Nazareth. There's fans that they love nothing more than to go watch a good street race. You're not going to see very much side-by-side racing there. It's just getting around the corners. Nazareth is about as close to being a road course as anything is. It's not got any right-hand turns in it. I think that the IRL is well-rounded with the tracks you go to. Phoenix, Richmond, then you go to Indy, California, you go from tracks that it's relatively easy to drive by yourself, but then you have the drafting parts brought into it. I think it's a well-rounded series. It's just going to continue to grow as long as we keep having races like this, clean races where people aren't running into each other and taking out half the field and stuff like that. I think it just really shows how much respect the drivers pretty much have for each other. None of us want to go in the wall. We can't go up there and hit the guy in front of us and spin them out either. I think that the IRL has really got a good package the way it's set up by how many different types of racetracks that we go to.

Q: You had two instances where you were on the outside. How close were you to losing control?

Sam Hornish Jr.: Actually, there was quite a bit of grip up high, especially because you get out of the aero wake of all the cars in front of you. It was easier to drive it up there. A couple times I was behind Scheckter, trying to conserve fuel and follow him. If I didn't kick my right front wing out going into the turn, it would have started pushing up. As soon as it pushed up, got a whole bunch of air under the front of it, it snapped loose. You're trying to correct it again. Sometimes I'd rather run up high than be right behind somebody, going through all the turbulence of their wake.

Q: Have you talked to Roger Penske since the end of the race?

Sam Hornish Jr.: No.

Moderator: Thank you.


Part I

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing