IRL: Hornish returns to victory circle at Kentucky

Sam Hornish is back in Victory Lane after a long drought. Hornish and his ...

Sam Hornish is back in Victory Lane after a long drought. Hornish and his #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet team spanked the field in dominating the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at the 1.5- mile tri-oval Kentucky Speedway.

Only Hornish, runner-up Scott Dixon in the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota and Bryan Herta's #27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda were on the lead lap after 200 rotations on the bumpy circuit.

There was only one caution, for ten laps, when Kenny Brack's engine blew, making the pace an extraordinary 1:29:44.6120 and the average speed 197.897mph, the latter a new IndyCar Series record.

"The car was pretty close to being on the edge today," Hornish acknowledged after celebrating his ninth Indy Racing League victory. "We trimmed it out and were able to run at the bottom of the track; not everyone could do that. The car was pretty easy to drive today and we know what it takes to win. You've got to have teamwork and a good handling car anywhere you go.

"Remember," Hornish advised, "we did all the development on the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8. We had to put together cars to race and different cars to test the engine this summer. The guys put in lots of extra hours. We've always focused on what it's going to take to win and I think we're heading in the right direction toward the championship."

Not so fast, Sam. You're still 77 points behind Tony Kanaan (385-308), who finished sixth today in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda.

Dixon thought he had "a great day. Obviously we want to win races, but it's more important to win championships," he said. "The car was definitely easy to drive in the race, and that made my job much easier today. We just didn't have enough speed to catch Sam," who finished 1.1712 seconds in front of the Kiwi.

Herta's pleasure at returning to the podium after last week's disaster at Gateway was palpable. He was running a lap down to Hornish and Dixon when the sole yellow came out after Kenny Brack's #15 Pioneer/Miller Lite Dallara/Honda developed an oil leak, then caught fire.

"My team did a great job to get my lap back on that last stop," he grinned. "This was a great run for us. It's good to know we can have a day like today, when we started near the back (13th) and were still able to work the car to the front. That's the strength of our package," Herta said.

Al Unser Jr. brought the #31 Corteco Dallara/Toyota home fourth, a lap down, but was pleased to get the result. "We had a problem with the gearbox all day and that cost us straightaway speed. It's a shame I was stuck in fourth gear most of the way. The team did an awesome job to get me here."

While Helio Castroneves' #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota was "great in the first stint" when he ran third, "we made a change on the first stop that turned out to be a mistake and the car ended up pushing in turn three. We improved the handling on the other stops but we didn't have the car to win today."

Kanaan had "a long day. We worked hard, but we got some points. It was very tough to pass out there, but the track was okay to run on." Robbie Buhl's seventh place was his best of the year in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy. "We're part of the game now and that's all we want. The moves Chevrolet made to make us competitive are pretty exciting and we're just at a different level now."

Rookie Dan Wheldon had a quiet, successful race in the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda to help give Andretti Green Racing all three drivers in the top 8. His eighth place finish, albeit a lap down was the Briton's second top ten in a row.

Despite brushing his fuel man during the final pit stop, Gil de Ferran copped ninth place in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota. The 2003 Indy 500 winner came into the pits a bit too hot and, "I misjudged my entry and made a costly mistake. At the end," de Ferran said, "I was catching cars in front of me but I just couldn't overtake them." Chris Seaman, who has been the Brazilian's fueler for three years, was uninjured.

Tenth place went to Tomas Scheckter in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota. At the start, the South African fell back from his seventh place starting spot and was running 13th at the 50-lap mark. "We had some trouble finding the [right] handling for the car and it was pushing really badly at the beginning of the race." The team made a "major wing change" on the first stop that helped a bit, but he was unable to make up many more positions before the torrid pace was complete.

While Hornish led 181 laps en route to victory, Tora Takagi was next in laps led for the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota with ten. The Japanese pilot was looking like he was headed for a good points finish before running out of methanol - while leading - and coasting to pit road for replenishment. The gaffe put him in the final finishing position, 18th on the day.

Despite setting the fast lap of the race at 219.413mph on lap 189, Sarah Fisher took 14th from her ninth starting spot, as it took until nearly the close of the event for her team to get the handling right on her #23 GMAC/AOL Dallara/Chevrolet. Another hard-luck story was that of Greg Ray, who qualified the #13 TrimSpa Special Panoz G Force/Honda in fifth place yet fell back to 15th at the close. Ray was running without radio contact and having a tough time working traffic and fell three laps behind the leader's pace.

The IndyCar Series title chase is getting even more torrid, with four rounds left to play. Kanaan is still on top with 385 points, while Castroneves is second at 377, Dixon third with 373, de Ferran fourth (372) and Hornish, who looked like he was nowhere before Michigan in July holds 308 fifth place points.

It's on to Nazareth Speedway and the Firestone Indy 225 runs next week, race #13 in the 16-event campaign. As the IndyCar Series field gains parity, the standings grow tighter by the week. And Hornish has his late August deadline approaching to make his decision of what to do for the next decade.

"I started as an amateur kart racer and worked my way up to be pro ranks. I have to figure out what my next step will be," Hornish allowed. "I've won races and I've won championships. Someday I want to be a legend." In the IndyCar Series chronicles, his race today might go in the books as a legendary event.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Dan Wheldon , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske