KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Sam Hornish Jr. has been involved in four of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history, winning three shootouts. The Marlboro Team Penske driver was expecting another squeaker when he and Dan Wheldon hooked up in a late-race duel at Kansas Speedway.
He had reason to be concerned. Wheldon, the pole sitter in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, led by 0.0078 of a second as the two series champions caught the start-finish line on Lap 197. Hornish was able to nose ahead on the white-flag lap and win the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 by 0.0793 of a second.
'When it gets down to that little bit, it's just me and the other driver,' said Hornish, who claimed his 17th IndyCar Series victory and first for Penske Racing at the 1.5-mile oval. 'To tell you the truth, I was quite a bit nervous about it, considering that I've won most of the times when I've been in those close finishes. The one time I've lost, I was on the inside. All the ones I won I was on the outside, except for Indy this year. That's a little bit different story.
'Michigan a couple years ago, I lost by about that much (as at Kansas). I had a feeling it might turn out to be like Michigan. I just kept digging and trying as hard as I could. It was great to hear (spotter Tom Wurtz say) 'Clear.' ''
The victory and three bonus points for leading the most laps (149 of 200) gave Hornish a 20-point cushion over teammate Helio Castroneves in the standings after eight races. Scott Dixon is third (39 points behind) and Wheldon remained fourth (43 shy).
After a weekend off, a challenging montage of races (1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway on July 15; The Milwaukee Mile on July 23; and the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway on July 30) await the IndyCar Series teams.
Hornish said momentum is churning for the No. 6 Honda-powered Dallara team. The victory – his third of the season – followed a dominating performance at Richmond International Raceway eight days earlier.
'We had a couple races that were off at the beginning of the year,' he said. 'We had a mechanical problem at St. Petersburg. I got too excited the weekend after the Indy 500. I thought I could really get on the gas, but spun out, ended up a lap down at Watkins Glen.
'I think we just came to a lot of tracks that we've been fast at over the last couple years, but haven't been able to win. Richmond, we were right up there the last couple years, as well as here. Both of those races, we were able to win.
'It really makes us look forward to going to places like Nashville, where we finished second at the last two years, and Milwaukee, where we won. Of course, going to Michigan where we have so many hometown fans (is special). We haven't had strong runs, but had a second three years ago.
'I think there are a lot of things that are going our way as far as momentum. While we are happy to have the break next weekend, I wish that we could just keep going so we could see how this championship unfolds. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait a weekend, go to one of my favorite racetracks, Nashville.
'Hopefully, we'll get out of there with a win this year instead of another second. I guess we could take that, as well.'
For the remainder of the season, it's about maximizing points in his quest for a third IndyCar Series championship. But strong contenders – Castroneves and the Target drivers, plus Panther Racing's Vitor Meira – are poised to pounce should Hornish's momentum falters.
'(The season) already has been special,' Hornish said. 'I won Indy. That makes the whole year special. That was the main thing for me.
'I love to win as much as the next guy, but that was the crowning achievement in my career. I don't know if anything will ever match up to that. I'm sure having a lot of fun with winning races since then, and really happy to get out of here with the points lead for the championship.'