IRL: Homestead-Miami: Winners press conference

MODERATOR: Sam, in a nutshell, how do you do so well at Homestead Speedway? SAM HORNISH JR.: It's pretty much totally different than what it was last year. There was hardly any wind, a lot of heat. Today there was a lot of wind, and it was a ...

MODERATOR: Sam, in a nutshell, how do you do so well at Homestead Speedway?

SAM HORNISH JR.: It's pretty much totally different than what it was last year. There was hardly any wind, a lot of heat. Today there was a lot of wind, and it was a little bit cooler. I think the biggest reason I do well at Homestead Speedway is basically my engineer. He does an awesome job. We didn't have to touch the car all day long. He kept wanting to make changes, but I told him it was good enough already. Pennzoil Panther guys do such an awesome job. All I have to do is go out there and drive and keep it in between the walls. They give me cars that not only finish but are fast.

Q You talked here yesterday about you last year, you raised the bar over the competition. Today it looked like you did a pretty good job. Can you talk about how much better you are this year than last?

SAM HORNISH JR.: We ended last year with a victory. That was really important to us because we knew that the guys would be really pumped up in the offseason, you know, make them want to work that much harder. The guys sure did. They went out there, and they worked 12-hour days. They made sure that the car was going to stay together. I don't know. I wouldn't have ever expected that today we would have won as well as we did. But, you know, we have to keep thinking about the next race, Phoenix. We like Phoenix, too, so hopefully it will go about as good as that.

Q John, can you talk about the whole team, how the team has raised the bar?

JOHN BARNES: One of the things that we really worked hard on this winter, of course, is the Oldsmobile-to-Chevrolet conversion. Speedway Engines has just done a tremendous job. They worked tirelessly day and night to come up with the power that we need now. Showed on the straightaways. Sam and (engineer) Andy (Brown) had the things working well in the corners. Speedway Engines just did a hell of a job to get the power we needed to, you know, be the leader of the pack here today. We believe in consistency. At Panther, that's one of the things we really strive for. You see that the roster at Panther Racing hasn't changed in the last three years. Maybe just one person in the last four years - and that being the guy here next to me. So we really think it's important to keep the same group of guys together. They understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, and also the strengths and weaknesses of the people next to them. So I think that's really important. And Pennzoil, I mean, they come back and, you know, they've been a great supporter of us. The rest is history.

Q Was there any time in the race at all where you didn't feel you had everybody covered?

SAM HORNISH JR.: Basically today the only time I didn't know if we had everybody covered was, I was in a pack of about eight cars, and was leading the race, but the back of the car was moving around quite a bit because I was not going fast enough through the corner because I kind of got into the rhythm of how the other cars were running. I thought, you know, most of the race I thought that, you know, we could be -- we were capable of winning. But that was about the only time that I started wondering. And that was just -- you know, my I had to get through that pack as fast as I could. The more you sit there, get into their mode and start, you know -- I was driving around the track at 180 miles an hour average, and I could barely hold on to the car. Then two laps after I got out of that pack, I was back up running 192 without a problem. So it's just really amazing how much being around other cars affects yours here.

Q Would you talk about what don't we know about this guy that makes him so good?

JOHN BARNES: There's no way I'm going to answer that question (laughter). He's our secret weapon. He's very dedicated, tremendous individual. I think you see Sam hasn't changed a bit from all his wins and his championships. It's still the same Sam.

Q Last year you talked about every time you went around the lap, you went out a little wider. Looked like you had the outside line anytime you wanted it today. Did you do that again? Could you talk about the line you took on the outside?

SAM HORNISH JR.: I don't really know what the difference was between last year and this year. There was a little bit more rubber down on the higher line, so the only place I really needed to do that at all was (Turns) 1 and 2. I could kind of pretty much keep moving it up, but didn't have to because the lane was actually wide enough to go two wide. (Turns) 3 and 4, it was so windy, it was real hard to go outside unless somebody had a problem pushing, and they were trying to stay down to the bottom of the racetrack. But, you know, the car worked anywhere I wanted to put it. If I wanted to run it low, the back end stayed underneath it. If I wanted to run it high, the front end stayed underneath it. Really a tribute to the setup of the car.

Q You probably grew up watching the Marlboro Team Penske cars on TV. Describe of view of them in your rearview mirror today.

SAM HORNISH JR.: I remember when Little Al (Unser Jr.) was running for Team Penske, it seemed like every time I won in a go-kart, Al won that same day. When I got to Indy cars, I figured I had to change that somehow, because it wouldn't work that way (laughter). You know, it was a great feeling. There was so much hype built up on whether or not the IRL guys would be able to compete. We just wanted to go out there and send a message, that we did our homework over the winter, we're really going to try to defend our championship. We haven't slacked off at all. We're still pushing it as hard as we were last year, if not more.

Q Sam, talk about when Helio made one pass, I don't recall if other traffic was involved, one lap later you're right by him. Talk about the mentality of, "No, you don't"?

SAM HORNISH JR.: It was right after the restart. I was trying to get the jump on the restart. When I went to shift from second to third, I didn't get it all the way back. Just kind -- they went back into second. I had to let off again and then pull it back. It was a mistake on my part. He got a run on me going down the straightaway, got back underneath me. Then I knew I had to get back by him because, you know, the best place to be out here on this racetrack is to be out front because it doesn't affect your car. The other cars really affect how you're handling is. I knew I had to get back by him as soon as I could.

Q You've been on the team for a long time. The motivation was always to be the best. How does it feel now to be the best?

JOHN BARNES: I think the key to Panther Racing is we try to be humble. You can talk all you want. One race doesn't make a championship or a year. We have a rule at our place, it's called the hard ball rule: It's 48 hours after a win or a loss, we're on to the next thing. The time our guys get back home and get settled up on the next quest, the two races coming up, Phoenix and Fontana, I'm sure will be at enjoyable or as exciting. So we're on to that platform.

Q Sam, late in the race, so far ahead, did you find yourself backing off a bit?

JOHN BARNES: Can I answer that? I can tell you that we kept telling him, before the suspicious yell that Penske got their laps back (laughter), that he was running 194 mile-an-hour laps. The fastest laps he ran all day were in the last 40 or 50. So we kept telling him he had eight seconds, we said 12 seconds, we had 15-second leads. The throttle kicks kept going flatter and flatter and flatter. I knew what he wanted to do today, and I think he accomplished that.

Q You ran a dominating race today. Finishing under caution, does it take a little bit off of it? Does it steal a little thunder?

SAM HORNISH JR.: Having three cautions there toward the end, you know, kind of took away our lap lead on everybody else. I think we were a lap and 18 seconds up on everybody when the first of those three cautions came out. Then we were, you know, -- we pitted, Penske didn't, they got a lap back. Then there was another caution right after that. They were eight seconds behind us or six seconds behind us. We went from being a lap, it kind of took a little bit of our steam away. We would have been able to like to lap the fooled. We're not going to be greedy; we're just going to go out there and try to win the race.

-irl-

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Series IndyCar
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske