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Sunday, September 8
Updated: September 10, 3:58 PM ET
Hornish retakes IRL points lead
How much longer did he have to go? Could he hold on? Every one of the last 22 laps seemed like five, his nerves getting tighter.
Finally, as they soared into the final turn, Hornish nosed his car ahead, holding off Unser just long enough to win the Delphi Indy 300 in the closest Indy car finish in history.
"I kept asking the guys, 'How many do we have to go? How many more laps?"' Hornish said. "You know how it's going to end up, you know you're either going to be first or second and you think about that for the last 40 laps.
"You're trying to figure out if you're going to be the guy that loses by a little bit or wins by a little bit."
And Hornish won by the very littlest of bits. He beat Unser by a mere 0.0024 seconds -- a distance of about three inches.
"It was one of the most exciting races I've ever been in my life, the most exciting," Unser said. "We just came up short again. I honestly thought that we won the race. I thought I had him. It was that close.
"I tell you, they don't come any closer than that."
And Unser should know. In the 1992 Indianapolis 500, he held off Scott Goodyear to win by 0.043 seconds in the closest finish in that race's history.
Unser lost by 0.0111 seconds to Jeff Ward in June at the Texas Motor Speedway, the second-closest finish in Indy car history.
"They all hurt," Unser said. "Anytime you run second, you're the first one to lose. And, quite frankly, that (stinks)."
The victory was Hornish's fourth of the season and gave him the lead in the points race -- for this week, at least. He leads
Castroneves by 12 points, with the series' finale next Sunday at Texas.
Gil de Ferran, who began the day only one point behind Castroneves, is all but out of the race after crashing into the wall on the 52nd lap. De Ferran had a concussion and was taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
"We just didn't have what it took to win," Castroneves said. "The key thing is that we are still in the championship hunt going into the last race. I finished fourth at our first race there, so hopefully we'll be able to get the job done next weekend."
Hornish started from the pole and led for 102 of the 200 laps. But when he, Castroneves and Unser pitted on lap 159 under a caution, he was third out of the pits.
Castroneves raced out first, with Unser close behind. Unser grabbed the lead on the restart, but Hornish got by Castroneves and then zipped around Unser on lap 169.
Unser tried to pull around Hornish on the next lap, but Hornish wouldn't let him. Anytime Unser closed in on him, Hornish moved up to crowd him and block his way.
But with 22 laps remaining, Hornish got a little too high and Unser ducked in underneath. Neither could move ahead, and they raced side by side, so close a wire could have been tying the cars together.
"At first, the first five laps of it, I was frustrated," Hornish said. "I was thinking, `Why won't he just stay behind me and follow me and we can get away from these guys?' I decided, well if we're running side by side nobody can really pass us.
"I wasn't going to give up because I knew as soon as I went behind him, and somebody went around on me I could not get to the front again."
And sure enough, six other cars and then nine packed in behind them. The battle began to resemble a NASCAR race, with cars racing side by side and jockeying for position.
Only these guys were doing it at 220 mph.
"That was the closest wheel-to-wheel racing I think you'll see in the country today," Unser said. "There are fenders on those cars down south for a reason, and that's to rub on each other. What we do here is close, wheel-to-wheel racing, a non-contact sport so that we can find out who the best man is. Not run into each other and have a demo derby."
With four laps to go, only one second separated the two leaders from the 11th-place car.
Hornish officially took the lead with five laps left, but he and Unser were still were so close no one could tell. Finally, as they soared into the final turn, Hornish nudged ahead and held off Unser until they crossed the finish line.
Even then, though, Unser thought he'd won.
"I thought we had a nose on him," Unser said. "I looked up at the tower and I saw the tower, they had him up front. I started getting the feeling then, and then my crew verified.
"What can I say? We were there."Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories