Hornish wins second IRL championship by inches in Texas thriller. FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 15, 2002 -- Chevrolet driver Sam Hornish Jr. won by a nosecone today in the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, capturing his second consecutive Indy...
Hornish wins second IRL championship by inches in Texas thriller.
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 15, 2002 -- Chevrolet driver Sam Hornish Jr. won by a nosecone today in the Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, capturing his second consecutive Indy Racing League championship and scoring his record-setting fifth win of the season. Hornish edged championship runner-up Helio Castroneves by .0095 seconds on the track after 300 miles of intense racing, and he edged his rival by 20 points in the championship race to claim the series' $1 million prize. He notched Chevrolet's 14th victory of the season and led a sweep of the first five finishing positions by Chevy Indy V8 engines.
"It's awesome to be the first Chevrolet champion since Chevy returned to Indy car racing," said Hornish, who repeated his championship-winning victory in last year's Chevy 500. "Chevrolet has been so good to work with this year, giving us an opportunity to be a contender for the championship all year long. We had zero engine problems -- you can't look at many series and say that the champion didn't have a single motor problem.
"We won the first pole and we won the first race for Chevy," Hornish noted. "We missed out on winning the Indy 500, but there's always next year and we can be the first team to win the Indy 500 with the new 2003 Chevy powerplant."
The 200-lap race on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval produced the heart-stopping competition that has become the trademark of the IRL series. Hornish and Castroneves ran wheel-to-wheel for the final 24 laps, trading the lead repeatedly. The .0096-second margin of victory was the second closest in IRL history, coming on the heels of Hornish's win by .0024 seconds one week ago at Chicagoland Speedway.
"Helio and I ran really close, and he didn't want to give me any more room than I wanted to give him," said Hornish. "We touched wheel-to-wheel once and bumped in the tri-oval. It was close racing and you have to fight for everything you get out there."
Hornish showed his championship mettle when he was caught out on a green-flag pit stop on lap 86 that dropped him to the back of the lead lap. He battled back through the pack and retook the lead on lap 146. In the final run to the checkered flag, Hornish passed Castroneves' Chevrolet Dallara in the front straight on lap 196 and held the razor-thin advantage to the finish.
"It was a tremendous battle, not only for the lead but for the championship with everything on the line," said Castroneves, who earned two bonus points for leading 92 laps, the most among the seven drivers who ran at the front. "I'm a little disappointed because you want to win a championship, you want to win the race, you want to win everything. But I guess it wasn't my day."
Third-place finisher Vitor Meira had the best seat in the house to watch the Hornish-Castroneves duel. He started on the pole in Team Menard's Chevrolet Dallara in only his fourth IRL start and led eight laps.
"I will tell anyone that my team deserves the credit and I'm proud to be with them whether we finish first, third or last," said Meira. "The engine was just great, and I was able to pull up through traffic. If it wasn't the best engine, it was one of the best."
Hornish became the first Chevrolet champion since Chevy drivers won five straight titles in the PPG Indy Car World Series in 1988-92. Chevrolet returned to open-wheel racing in 2002 with an all-new Chevy Indy V8 engine and swept the manufacturer, driver and team championships. The top nine drivers in the final standings were powered by Chevrolet.
"We congratulate Sam Hornish Jr. and Pennzoil Panther Racing on winning the Indy Racing League drivers' championship today with Chevrolet power," said Chevrolet General Manager Kurt Ritter, "and we applaud the exceptional skill of all the IRL drivers who made 2002 a memorable year in open-wheel racing.
"Sam has earned a place among Chevrolet's celebrated Indy car champions of the past, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with him for many years to come. His championship-winning performance today crowned Chevy's successful return to open-wheel racing and showed once again that wherever there's a winner's circle, Chevy will be there."
Chevrolet unveiled its new 2003 Chevy Indy V8 today at Texas Motor Speedway. Chevy and Hornish will open their title defenses with this new powerplant on March 2, 2003, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.