Hornish, Jr., Hammers Home Second Career Kentucky IRL IndyCar Series Win
Sam Hornish, Jr., capitalized on a caution restart with six laps remaining in today's "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Secret" and raced away from an evenly-matched four-car lead pack to take his second career IRL IndyCar Series win at Kentucky Speedway by 0.5866 of a second over Scott Dixon.
Hornish, Jr., who collected his first win at the track from the pole position in 2003, took the final of a series track record 23 lead changes on Lap 196 of 200 when he guided his No. 6 Penske Racing car past the No. 9 Ganassi Racing machine of Scott Dixon on the high line near the start/finish line and led the closing five laps to seal the victory.
"We had a really good car on the restarts," Hornish, Jr., said. "We picked out pretty much the perfect gears and when we came up to speed I was able to get up beside Scott and to get around him. I didn't think I was going to be able to pull that far away from him, but the car just handled. We were fast when we needed to be and saved fuel when we needed to."
Race polesitter Helio Castroneves drove to a third-place finish, Dan Wheldon placed fourth and Andretti Green Racing veteran Tony Kanaan closed out the top-five.
The victory was Hornish, Jr.'s fourth of the season and helps him move past his Penske Racing teammate Castroneves for the lead in the series championship standings. Hornish, Jr., will hold a seven-point lead over the second-place Castroneves entering the series next tilt at Infineon Raceway Aug. 27.
Dixon delivered his seventh top-five and 10th top-10 finish of the season through 12 races. He held on to the fourth position in the championship standings, but lost two points in the overall picture in today's race and is 33 points behind Hornish, Jr.
"I was definitely upset when Sam passed and just chopped me off," Dixon said of Hornish, Jr.'s move to take his final race lead. "Going into Turn 1, he just came down. If I didn't lift I would've hit him or I would have spun.
"I think our restart gears were totally different than his. It took us a lap or two to get going and he seemed to get speed straight away. (We gained) good points (today), but we really needed to win to try and gain on the championship. Hopefully, going to Infineon, we can gain a little more."
The Penske and Ganassi Racing tandems were the class of the field throughout the event. Dixon, Castoneves, Hornish, Jr., and Wheldon exchanged leads and track position on several occasions while separating themselves from the fifth-place car by as many as 10 seconds throughout the opening 52 race laps.
The first caution of the race broke up the lead quartet on Lap 56 when the No. 20 Vision Racing car of Ed Carpenter spun at pit exit, catching Hornish, Jr., and Castroneves on pit road while Wheldon and Dixon remained on the track.
Castroneves and Hornish, Jr., emerged from the pits in ninth and 10th-place respectively on Lap 59 and began their march back toward the front. Both made it back into the race top 10 on Lap 77 when Hornish, Jr., occupied sixth and Castroneves held down eighth place. They entered the top-five to stay on Lap 121 when Hornish, Jr., took the lead and Castroneves raced in fifth place.
"We just had an unbelievable day," Hornish, Jr., said. "We had only really one hiccup, which is when we pitted and the yellow flag came out. We had to work our way up through the traffic and the car was very good. Two things won the race today: One thing was patience and the other thing was pit stops that the guys gave me."
Hornish, Jr., led a total of 57 laps on the day and was second in that category to Wheldon who led a race-high 66 laps. He fell out of contention for the race win on the final pit stop of the day when he parked his No. 10 Ganassi Racing car too far away from the fuel hose on a Lap 185 pit stop. The extra time the team took to resposition the car proved to be the difference for Wheldon.
The official race attendance was 35,814 and the event closes the 2006 Kentucky Speedway season.
The speedway will release its 2007 schedule in the coming months.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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