IRL: Daytona IROC - Hornish, Giaffone, Castroneves race notes

Hornish eighth, Giaffone 10th, Castroneves 11th in season opener at Daytona. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 -- IRL IndyCar Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr., Felipe Giaffone and Helio Castroneves finished eighth, 10th and 11th, ...

Hornish eighth, Giaffone 10th, Castroneves 11th in season opener at Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 -- IRL IndyCar Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr., Felipe Giaffone and Helio Castroneves finished eighth, 10th and 11th, respectively, in the first round of the True Value International Race of Champions on Feb. 12 at Daytona International Speedway.

While the IndyCar Series trio finished out of the top five, Castroneves still made big news after the race for a display of incredible car control during the all-star event featuring 12 top drivers from different series in equally prepared stock cars.

Four-time IROC champion Mark Martin won the 40-lap race on the 2.5-mile, high-banked oval at Daytona, edging fellow NASCAR Winston Cup Series star Kurt Busch by .123 of a second. O'Reilly World of Outlaws star Danny Lasoski finished third. Martin's average speed was 177.253 mph.

Giaffone and Castroneves were in a photo finish for position at the checkered flag. But fans and drivers were buzzing after race about a save made by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves early in the race.

Castroneves was running second to NASCAR Winston Cup star Jimmie Johnson. Another car touched Castroneves' car, sending Castroneves into a spin into the infield grass. Castroneves returned to the track at the pit road exit entering Turn 1 at the tail of the field, but he didn't lose the all-important aerodynamic draft from the pack of cars.

The crowd went wild. And many of the veteran stock-car drivers praised Castroneves -- in only his second year of IROC -- for the save after the race.

"We brought it home in one piece," Castroneves said. "I was impressed with that save. I thought I was gone. I'm proud of myself that I saved that one. I couldn't believe it. I'm glad I've watched a lot of NASCAR races. It really helped me with that one. I had a lot of fun. I had a good time. Let's go for the next one."

2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Giaffone also was involved in an incident, shortly before the midway point of the race.

IROC rookie Giaffone was running in the top five when he was tapped by another car, causing a loss of traction. Giaffone then bumped O'Reilly World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser while trying to regain control of his car, sending Kinser into the infield grass and triggering the only caution period of the race.

"Somebody touched me, and I got loose and ran into the guy (Kinser)," Giaffone said. "It is a shame. When you are running close in the tri-oval, the car gets really loose.

"It was a good experience. It was better in the beginning of the race. Then all of a sudden, I got squeezed in the middle and lost the draft. Then with like five laps to go, I touched Hornish, and that upset both of us. It was my mistake.

"Helio and I were very close to each other at the finish, but I didn't know it was him. It was very fun for me. It is very different from what we are used to. I'm learning and really enjoying this."

Two-time defending IndyCar Series champion Hornish ran as high as fifth late in the race. But he tried to advance positions by driving a high line on the track, which backfired when no one joined him as a drafting partner. Hornish slipped backward instead.

"It was an exciting race, and I had a lot of fun," Hornish said. "I tried to make a pass with about five laps to go, and nobody went with me, but that is part of the deal. You have to find somebody to work with. Nobody was helping anybody today. We couldn't even get the IndyCar Series guys to help each other. I had more people work with me last year than this year.

"If I had stayed in line where I was, I might have finished better, but you have to try to make a move. It just didn't work out."

Martin earned his 11th career IROC victory, tying him with IndyCar Series star Al Unser Jr. and the late Dale Earnhardt atop the all-time career IROC victory list.

"Al Jr. was the best all around guy I've ever seen to jump in an IROC car just cold turkey and go like crazy," Martin said. "And, of course, everybody knows how tough Earnhardt was to beat. We had some great races, and some great battles.

"But I've got a bunch of kids out there now who are incredible race car drivers, and it is a pretty tall order today. I'm sure they are going to be gunning for me next time."

This race will be televised on ESPN2 at 10:30 p.m. (EST) Sunday, Feb. 16.

The second round of the True Value IROC series is April 5 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The final round of the four-race series is Aug. 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Kurt Busch , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Danny Lasoski , Steve Kinser , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mark Martin