IRL: Homestead-Miami: Weekend postscript

20th Anniversary Grand Prix Of Miami Panther puts more finishing touches on amazing streak MIAMI, Monday, March 4, 2002 - Sam Hornish Jr. has become the master finisher in the Indy Racing League thanks to the master preparation of his Pennzoil...

20th Anniversary Grand Prix Of Miami
Panther puts more finishing touches on amazing streak

MIAMI, Monday, March 4, 2002 - Sam Hornish Jr. has become the master finisher in the Indy Racing League thanks to the master preparation of his Pennzoil Panther Racing car.

Hornish kicked off the 2002 IRL season by winning the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami on March 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He now has driven 14 races for Panther Racing, winning four and running at the end of every one of them.

2001 Indy Racing League champion Hornish has completed all but seven of the 2,850 laps run in IRL races during his Panther tenure.

His finishes in those 14 races were first, first, fourth, 14th, third, second, second, second, sixth, third, third, second, first and first. The 14th-place finish came in the Indianapolis 500 after a spin early in the race. Still he rallied from the back of the field and was charging hard, four laps back, when Helio Castroneves took the checkered flag.

The last time Hornish went to the sidelines early in an IRL race was, ironically, in the 2000 season finale at Texas just after he was hired by Panther Racing. Driving for PDM Racing, he lasted eight laps in that event before the engine failed.

Earlier in the 2000 season as a mere 20-year-old, Hornish provided PDM with one of its best finishes ever, a third at Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, as the Indy Racing League heads west for back-to-back races at Phoenix and Fontana, Calif., on March 17 and 24, respectively, Panther Racing seeks to continue its incredible finishing record over the past three seasons.

Prior to Hornish's arrival, Scott Goodyear, now retired and a commentator on the ABC television crew, drove the car. He won the final race he drove for Panther, in October 2000 at Texas, and the MBNA Pole in the prior race.

One must go back to the Las Vegas race on April 22, 2000, to finally find where a Panther Racing car fell out. A failed oil fitting caused Goodyear to park his car in that race, but the demise came only 16 laps from the end of the 208-lap event.

Panther Racing now has a string of 20 consecutive races where its car has been running at the finish. Through that stretch, Goodyear and Hornish completed 4,048 of 4,066 laps. Starting with the opening race of the 2000 season, Panther Racing cars have completed a remarkable 4,640 laps out of 4,674 competed.

That's an unbelievable finishing percentage of .993.

Team co-owners John Barnes, Gary Pedigo, Jim Harbaugh, Doug Boles and Mike Griffin aren't taking any bows. They're just trying to become the first team to win back-to-back championships.

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Hornish welcomes competition: After dominating the 20th Anniversary Grand Prix of Miami, Sam Hornish Jr. admitted that the arrival of Marlboro Team Penske, the winningest team in American open-wheel racing history, as full-time Indy Racing League competitors this season provided plenty of motivation.

"We wanted to send a message that we'd done our homework over the winter, and that we were going to defend our championship," Hornish said. "We're still pushing as hard as we were last year."

Marlboro Team Penske teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves finished second and third, respectively, at Miami.

Pennzoil Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes also indicated that humility also is one of the keys to success for Hornish, 22.

"Sam's our secret weapon," Barnes said. "He's very dedicated and a tremendous individual. He hasn't changed a bit after all of his wins and his championship. He's the same Sam."

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Making a statement: The last time that an Indy Racing League champion opened his defense of the title with a victory before Sam Hornish Jr. at Homestead-Miami was January 1998, when 1996-97 IRL champion Tony Stewart won from the No. 1 starting spot at Walt Disney World Speedway.

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The rookie report: Four drivers made their Indy Racing League debuts at Homestead-Miami, with Tomas Scheckter leading the way with a sixth-place finish in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

George Mack finished 13th in the No. 31 310 Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, John de Vries was 17th in the No. 37 Pit Bull Energy Drink/Rhino Cleaning Products Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, and Hideka Noda finished 23rd in the No. 20 Convergent Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone.

Scheckter, Mack and de Vries each were running at the finish.

While Scheckter enjoyed the best finish among the first-timers, his first Indy Racing weekend was a costly one for Red Bull Cheever Racing. Scheckter crashed during practice Friday and then collided with teammate and boss Eddie Cheever Jr. on Lap 3, sending Cheever into the outside wall and ending his race.

"It was an expensive weekend, with two different rookie mistakes," said Richard Caron, Red Bull Cheever Racing general manager. "All I can say about Tomas is that it is inexcusable to be running into your teammate. "The Red Bull Cheever Racing crew did a good job all weekend bouncing back from adversity. In the race, Tomas' car was very competitive. He went down a few laps at the beginning of the race, but the crew made up one lap in the pits. Hopefully, we won't have another weekend like this one."

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Not quite a record: Sam Hornish Jr. led 166 of 200 laps at Homestead-Miami, but that's not the Indy Racing League record for most laps led in a 200-lap event. Tony Stewart led 193 of 200 laps in June 1997 en route to victory at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

1999 Indy Racing League champion Greg Ray led 184 of 200 laps en route to victory in April 2001 at Atlanta. Ray led 182 laps while winning in 2000 at Atlanta when the event covered 208 laps Juan Montoya led 167 of. 200 laps while winning the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier holds the league record for most laps led in a race, leading 224 of 250 laps in the inaugural SunTrust Indy Challenge in June 2001 at Richmond International Raceway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Tomas Scheckter , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Scott Goodyear , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , George Mack , John de Vries , John Barnes , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske