Indy Racing League Series: Chevy 500
Topics: Chevy 500
MODERATOR: Ladies and Gentlemen, we're pleased to bring in both the winner of the Chevy 500 and the 2002 Indy Racing League champion. Two great champions went wheel to wheel in the closing laps. This is the first time we've had a two-time Indy Racing League champion. He's now set a standard by going back to back. Also, not to be missed in this victory, the five wins this season establishes an Indy Racing League record. That's a record that both he and Buddy had four wins in a season. The Pennzoil Panther team has won 11 times, that's number one amongst all Indy Racing League teams. A variety of very important things have happened. We have Andy Brown, Mike Griffin, Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles, John Barnes, Kevin Blanch, The Rocket, the chew chief, and in the center, of course, the gentleman who is the man of the hour, Sam Hornish, Jr. Sam, we'll begin with you. Obviously what a nail-biter. You had the situation with the pit stop, where you went in under green, Helio went in under yellow, a lot of track position to make up. You made that up, then went wheel to wheel. Tell us about the approach that you took to this race, tell us about the last few laps.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thought we had everything under control about 80 laps into it, 85 laps into it. Came in, pitted. Hoped we got through that without, you know, getting caught on a yellow. You know, that seemed to happen. We were from behind there. We got lucky enough that it happened at a time when we were only one lap down, so when the leaders pitted, we were actually back on the lead lap, but deep in traffic. Had to pick the way through traffic, kind of come up through, figure out where the car worked the best at. Actually helped me there towards the end on knowing where I needed to position my car to be able to make a run on Helio at the end. Just a tough race all the way down there because Helio didn't want to lose and I didn't want to lose. We were both out there pushing real hard, trying to get a win. Not a better way that I could ask to win a championship than by winning a race, two races in a row. Pretty pumped up about it. You get a streak going. You wish you could continue on to next year. We have a couple months to wait before that happens.
MODERATOR: Tell us about your season-long battle with Helio, what it felt like to race with him, the rivalry that developed between you and obviously Team Penske.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know, it was more something I fought within myself. We had three really good races at the beginning of the year. I keep going back to this, but if the driver hadn't screwed up in three races, we would have had a little better of a season. We wouldn't have been going right down to the end here and having to win, having to win two races in a row to take the championship. The Pennzoil Panther team didn't let me down once this year. We had a couple times when the driver banged into the wall, somebody else, they worked real hard, got the car back out there, got more points than what we would have if we would have given up. We're all pretty much the same: we all want to win no matter what it takes. On the other hand, we're going to do it to the best of our ability, fairly.
MODERATOR: Kevin Blanch, you've been at this game for some time. Talk about this driver, Sam Hornish, talk about what you went through during the moments of the Chevy 500?
KEVIN BLANCH: Sam, he's incredible. He drives his heart out every race. Like he says, he's a perfect fit with the team. He doesn't want to lose; we don't want to lose. I'm sure a lot of times when we finish second place, people look at us and say, "You should be smiling." That's not what we go out there to do. We know that's not what he goes out there to do. Like he said, we fixed the car twice. We were hoping that wasn't going to be what made the difference in the championship. He went and won the race today. Fixing the car didn't make the difference; it just give us a little bit of an edge going into the end. You know, I was talking to Doug out there. I started with John at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the garage with a kerosene heater five years ago. I complained about the kerosene heater. We got a nice shop. We complained about no air-conditioning. Now we've won two championships. I don't think there's much more we can complain about.
MODERATOR: Kevin, this weekend did not start off the best. Obviously you had problems right in the first practice session. How did that make you feel emotionally?
KEVIN BLANCH: Well, I kind of took it a bit personal myself when the car caught on fire. We shouldn't allow them kind of things to happen. It did. You just want to make sure you don't get down on yourself, stay up, keep the guys going. We got the T car out and did what we needed to do. Then we changed the motor in it. We had to go to it as our race car, which that car has been really good car all year. Then Dan crashed. We ended up having to take two cars and make a spare car in case we needed it. The guys really worked a lot of hours this week. Probably worked more this weekend than we have all year long, all season, because things have gone so good. We come here, it seemed like it was going to fall apart pretty quick. All the guys rallied together, stayed together. John kept pumping everybody up. We put another car back together. We got in the show, let Dan run the second car. Even Dan done a pretty good job. I know he was hoping he could come up and help us out, but it just didn't work out that way.
MODERATOR: We'll take questions.
Q. When you got caught on the pit stop situation, did it just demonstrate how tenuous this is, anything can kind of put you behind the eight ball?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Kind of gave me memories of the June race when we had a little bit of a problem on one of the pit stops, had to make another stop. I knew one thing I had to do, I had to go out, be careful as I was picking my way back through the pack, but also not let off and let anybody get an inside run on me. We proved that. You got to keep struggling to get towards the front. If you're not going forwards, you're going backwards. That's when you have an opportunity for somebody to run into you, some fluke deal happens. You know, Rocket and all the guys were upset when the car caught on fire the other day. John asked me what I thought. I told him, "It ain't the last 10 laps yet, so I'm not worried." That's really what it came down to. I was starting to get a little worried with five to go. I saw a couple guys sneaking up from the back. Turned out that the car was good enough to go around the outside and take it.
Q. At the end of the race, Roger Penske came up and went over to John Barnes. The question is, what did he have to say?
JOHN BARNES: He said, "Well, big man, you did it." That was it. The whole Penske organization is a class act, Rick, Tim Cindric. What a great team to race against. I was asked a couple times before the race, and I kept saying, "Dan started at the back of the pack. How is he going to be able to factor in and help you guys?" We didn't bring Dan here to do that. Roger didn't bring Max to do that either. Sam was going to race against Helio. It just shows the class of the Penske organization.
Q. Last 20 laps were even. How did you feel on lap 196 when you took the lead for the last time?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: One of the great things about Texas Motor Speedway, you can run side by side, you can see the pylons. You could tell what position you're in. I kept seeing that 4 was on top. I knew I was beating him at the line. As long as I didn't let him get a run on me, get ahead of me, I knew we were in pretty good shape. I was a little bit excited. I was more worried that somebody would come back from behind and nudge their way in, I'd end up finishing third, we'd lose by three points or whatever it was.
Q. Was there any contact between you and Helio?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I got a doughnut on my wheel slip. I got "Firestone" rubbed off of my left front tire. Two times I said, "What are you doing" to myself. I wasn't talking to myself. Everybody knows who I was talking to. Helio and I ran really close. He didn't want to give me any more room than I wanted to give him. It was close racing. We came off of two, we touched wheel to wheel. Coming out of the triangle, we bumped. He gave me the fist. I don't know what happened there. He's probably not real happy with me. It's close racing. You have to fight for everything you get out there.
Q. (Question nor repeated.)
JOHN BARNES: Hasn't sunk in yet. My mind is still looking at the last three or four laps raced. I think by the time we get to Chicago, we'll be a little happier.
Q. (Question not repeated.)
JOHN BARNES: As I told you all year long, you know, we had a pretty big deficit financially facing us, the 3 and 6 car had. We have great people. It's a people's sport. We made up for the deficit of funding with Andy and all the guys that worked there at the shop every day, Sam's tremendous talent. It's been a blessing all year long. We've been blessed tremendously all year. That's just the way it is here. The rules are made to where dollars can't fix (inaudible). They made a hell of a run at us. Guys just stood up and took it.
Q. When Sam got out of the car, he mentioned a conversation he'd had with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Could you elaborate on that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think it was back at the Chicago IROC race. I saw Dale, talked to him for a little bit. We were trying to discuss -- I was asking him what it was like to be a Winston Cup driver, what the differences are, what he thinks the differences are in his life other than being gone more on the road, stuff like that. He pretty much told me, he said, "It's not about the days that you're gone or the days that you're home, it's about what you love to do. You've got to decide in your heart whether you want to be a stock car driver for the rest of your life or whether you want to be an Indy car driver for the rest of your life." That's not a too tough decision for me to make. When it comes down to it, if I could do whatever it took to win one of two races, whether it be the Indianapolis 500 or the Daytona 500, I'd definitely choose the Indianapolis 500. It made me focus a lot more on my IRL. At that time I also decided that I had to focus on the IRL championship, you know, not think about anything else. There's so many things that you could waste your time thinking about, might happen, might not happen. I just had to get this out of the way first. I'm really excited about the fact that I get to go back and I get to do the IROC series against next year. That's a way for me to learn, to get the thrill of running at Daytona. Maybe I'll never run in Winston Cup there, but always maybe have the opportunity to win an IROC race there, which would be as sweet.
Q. Talk about how it feels to be a repeat champion, being the first in history to do that.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's a wonderful feeling. It's something that I didn't even know up until the last 15 laps of today if I was going to be able to do. All year long, things went good, things went bad, we all kept our heads up, focused on the goal. As far as what it means to me personally, I don't know if I'll ever be able to say that. I say what I mean a lot, but I don't always let all the emotion out. It's a wonderful feeling to be able to be the first person to do that. You know, I feel better about it that Panther Racing is I think the first team to win two IRL championships, two back-to-back ones at least. To have the most wins, those guys really worked hard for me. Anybody that turns a wrench on my car, you know, I have a special place for them because giving them a little bit of my life in their hands. But they never once let me down, which has given me all the faith in the world. As long as their heads are up, mine is up, we're going to do good things.
MODERATOR: Andy, talk about what it's like to work with Sam Hornish.
ANDY BROWN: I told these guys not to ask me any questions. I've had too much Champaign (laughter). I was just going to sit here and grin stupidly. No, he's a wonderful driver to work with, keeps it straight. I know just exactly what I need to know, what the biggest problems are. There aren't all the nitty-gritty little problems that aren't important. I don't get those thrown in my face, just what we need to go fast, basically what we need to put the car up front and get the job done.
Q. Any more satisfaction in battling your rival wheel to wheel?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: The better scenario is finish the championship with three races to go and be able to go out and do whatever we want to do. It's not likely that that ever happens. Yeah, it's a good way to do it. There's no better way than to win two races in a row to lock your championship up. That's an awesome feeling. To have five wins this season, that's something I don't think any of us would have envisioned happening. All in all, everybody says, "You win, you do this, you finish second, you're mad about that because you didn't win." I look at it, I think I should have won seven races this year. Instead I won five. It's not because I'm greedy, it's that the guys gave me a good enough car to win seven times this year. Between this and that happening, it's a different way. Helio is a great competitor. He gave me room at the end. I was wondering if that was going to happen. I had to make it work on the high line. That's where our car was very good at it. Had the right gears in it.
Q. Talking about the ownership group, the personalities in organizing, how has that been?
GARY PEDIGO: They say if you want a partner, get a dog. There's some unique personalities in this group. John had the foresight to see that there's certain things he lacked that he thought he needed help with, so he went out and talked to give guys that he thought could help him in an area he felt he was weak in. I think what we don't do that works really well is we don't step on each other's toes. We each have roles to fill that are kind of unique. It just seems to work real well. We've never had an argument that I can remember.
MODERATOR: Doug, your comments about that?
DOUG BOLES: It's funny, that's a question we get quite a bit. I guess the easiest way to explain it is, the four of us up here are all from Indianapolis, so the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is really what kind of drove us in trying to win the Indianapolis 500. Jim Harbaugh spent a lot of time in Indianapolis, fell in love with the Speedway. John has been working there since 1968. This is really John's dream. As long as we all remember that we're help to John realize a dream, that's a bit of our dream as well, but not to the extent it is his, we're fine. It's John's dream, and we're here to support John in winning the Indianapolis 500.
Q. Talk about the future of the IRL. Obviously the question that Michael Andretti is coming in, some discussion it's going to get even tougher.
DOUG BOLES: I think I've been elected to answer that question. I have a unique perspective on this. I spent quite a bit of time working for the mayor of Indianapolis, especially when Tony announced that he was forming the Indy Racing League. The mayor got a lot of comments from both sides of the fence. I think the best way to describe it is, you know, if you were Tony George and you had a business that was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that was the most important race in the world, and you turned your keys over every month to somebody that didn't have the interest of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at heart, what would you do? The mayor of Indianapolis believed in that. Tony's vision of oval racing in America I think is now taking root and showing that we are the fastest growing motorsports form maybe in the world. Michael Andretti coming here, Roger Penske here this year, just shows that the vision that Tony had, that maybe people didn't all see in 1994, '95, '96, now are beginning to realize that, "We should have been here at Orlando in January of 1996." I think we're a few years behind but we certainly have a lot of momentum. We're excited to have Michael Andretti come here, we're excited to have Roger Penske. Anybody else that wants to come is welcome in 2003.
MODERATOR: There's somebody who has believed in the IRL from the beginning that would like to make a remark or two. Mr. Eddie Gossage.
JOHN BARNES: Wait one second. I would like for you and Tony to talk. Seems like we won four races here. Tony, could you make the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more like this place? I think we have this figured out.
EDDIE GOSSAGE: I was there, Burton Smith and I both were there in Orlando in January of '96. I just want to say, and I don't know quite how to say it, that to see where this thing -- how far it's come, to see guys like Sam Hornish, I remember you driving was it PDM three years ago, several laps down? These guys see the talent and the potential of a guy like this, they put him in a car, he goes out and wins back-to-back championships, all those kind of things. To me it's clear that what Tony saw and what some of us could understand to some degree but not to the extent that Tony saw, has finally come into full focus. It's totally impossible for a season of thousands of laps and tens of thousands of miles to come down to .0096 of a second between the two guys running for it. It's a privilege and an honor for us to do two races a year and to have folks like this team here with us. So we congratulate you and we congratulate Tony.
Q. Could anything in your past racing background prepare you for what you've gone through the last two weeks, the tightness of it?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't think so. Everything I've ever done -- most everything I'd done until I came to the Indy Racing League was predominated by road courses. I don't think you've -- hardly ever do you see a road course race where you're within two seconds, let alone .0024. You know, it's a totally new thing. They ask a question about Michael Andretti coming in, Roger Penske's drivers coming in last year, do they expect this? You watch their oval races, and there's very few times that they're side by side at the finish line. It's something new for them, too. Even with all the experience that Michael Andretti has had, coming to a Texas or Chicagoland, Nashville, it's going to be something totally different because the cars are different and the tracks are different than what they're used to racing on. Most of their tracks they run on are tight little ovals that are flat, hard to pass on. A lot of these tracks, it's all about a high-speed game of chess. It's setting yourself up for the last 10 laps, knowing where your car works better, whether it be on the high line or low line, setting the guy up for the last four laps - last four feet actually a lot of times.
Q. Does the driving motivation now switch to the Indianapolis 500 now that you've won two driving titles?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think the way I look at it is, you know, the Indianapolis 500 has been my driving motivation since I started. I don't know why it is, but every year before that race, driver introductions, I get choked up, teary eyed. I don't really like the fact that I do that because I know it's putting me beside myself. It's not really the best way to do it because that race means more to me than any other race. It's been my worst three finishes for the last three years. You know, it's tough when you look at it from that point of view because you can -- I don't know. I'm going to start putting it in the back of my mind, saying, "The Indianapolis 500 is just another race." Hopefully that will work. I don't know what I'm going to do. There's something wrong and we're going to have to fix that. That is the driving motivation. There is a lot to be said for winning championships, too. That's still going to be the primary focus.
MODERATOR: Congratulations to this team.
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