IndyCar Series: SunTrust Indy Challenge
Topics: SunTrust Indy Challenge
Sam Hornish, Jr.
June 24, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Great racing, congratulations. We're joined in the media center by race winner of tonight's Sun Trust Indy Challenge Presented by XM Satellite Radio, Sam Hornish, Junior. It is his 16th win in IndyCar Series competitions, of course his second win of the season, the other being the Indianapolis 500. It is the 20th Indy car team series win for Marlboro Team Penske, and back to back wins with Helio's win last year. And nice to do that in their backyard with Phillip Morris headquarters here in Richmond. Sam is now second in points trailing teammate Helio Castroneves by four, and also the first repeat winner at Richmond. Take us through your race.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We had a great race all the way through the beginning. Our focus for tonight was just make sure that we ran a calm, clean race, make sure we don't get into any problems out here. The last two years I either got hit or got a bit of the redness or spun out trying to get around Helio.
Tonight it was just right from the start, we had a little bit faster car than Helio, but we were able to save a little bit of fuel and see if we can make it to the end and see if we can only make it in one stop. And the way things worked out, that really didn't happen. We just had a great car, and only a couple of times did we get stuck in traffic where we could not get around guys and took awhile and allowed Helio to catch up once and Dario to catch up another time.
Traffic was probably the toughest thing we faced out there tonight but the Marlboro Team Penske crew did an awesome job for me, couldn't ask anything more, the car handled phenomenally and we're really looking forward to going into Kansas.
Q. You kind of pulled away early on about lap 39 from Helio and drove away, has that ever happened to you before?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We kind of drove away from everybody at the only other place I can think of that I felt like I had that dominant of a car was Miami in 2002 where we actually had the whole field a lap down and with the way things circulated with yellows and whatnot at the end. Helio and Gil got their lap back, and that would have been a good day to have everybody a lap down.
We had a really good car tonight and it worked well in traffic. We are actually, you know, a lot of times when I had clean air. I had a set lap time that I wanted to run to try to save the tires and make sure I didn't burn them up so that when I did get into traffic; I could push a little bit and have some tire there to lean on.
Q. How was the traffic, how did they behave for you Dario seemed to believe on his radio that you got special treatment, but were they getting out of your way nicely?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There was a couple guys that fought me pretty tough. But for the most part, most of the guys when you got to the inside of them, they were pretty good. There was a couple guys that I'm surprised they had a front wing left a couple times. I would get all the way to the inside of them and let off because you don't want to push up into them and spin them around. They just keep going in there.
Everybody has their own opinion of how traffic is. There are certain guys that I know whenever they catch up to them, I know they are going to let me go and other guys who are going to fight me tooth-and-nail, no matter if they are ten laps down. Depends on who you come up against first, and I'm sure everybody has their same drivers that they feel like that.
Q. Wasn't one of those behind Herta?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: At the end there, Bryan was pretty fast actually when he got into clean air, but I got into a couple runs on him, one in particular, I thought he lifted going into one and I went underneath him and I had to get on the brakes and go down to third gear to keep from running into the back of him or into the side of him for that matter.
You know, Bryan has always been pretty good with me, and you know, he could have blocked me at Indy. There's a couple other times where he could have but he's always pretty good. I did have a moment with him tonight but I know it wasn't anything intentional. He was trying to set up Koseki and he got out of it so gave himself some room and probably didn't know that I was down there.
Q. You and Helio are just four points apart, what kind of battle do you expect that this will be, and even as teammates, it's probably going to get interesting.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I'm sure it is going to get interesting, but it's been a great start to the season for myself. I had a couple races where we definitely felt like we could have got a little bit more out of the car; or, you know, Watkins Glen was probably the biggest disappointment of the year for us because I made a mistake early on in the race when I knew all we had to do was just keep it on the track and things would come to us.
You know, the road courses have hurt me a little bit, but I don't think it's been from a lack of being fast. It's just a lack of experience and knowing when to go. We had a part problem at St. Petersburg. Being that we've got two thirds of the road courses out of the way and the experience that I've got off of those two as well, I think we look at a lot of tracks that I really like going to: Milwaukee, Kansas, Nashville, two of those places I've never won at before, and to finish second there quite a few times.
I look forward to the schedule that we've got coming up. I think that there's a lot of opportunities for me to go out there and to win races, but just need to keep working with it. I don't feel like anybody gave us anything tonight. Helio had a good jump on us for the points, had some good races early on, but we needed to make sure we stayed with him and at least, make sure one of the Marlboro Team Penske cars finishes first in the championship. We'd really love to have a 1, 2.
Q. You're a former Panther alum, you probably didn't get a good view of what Vitor did back there, but the kid brought home another second place finish today. What do you really think of the job he's doing on a team that's probably not at the peak of where it used to be when you were with them?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I think that, you know, no matter what you want to say, I think that they have still got a few of the guys that worked there when I was there. They have still got all the same setups. This is the fourth year that we've ran that car. So I think that they have got a good idea of where they need to be when they go to each of the races. And he's a pretty good driver.
You know, I didn't get to see what he was able to do tonight. I'm really lucky that I wasn't able to see what he was doing tonight and I could watch everything from my rearviews. That's a good race for them. I saw that article that they had in the new Indy Car magazine, the Goodfellas piece, and I thought that was pretty neat. I still talk to those guys and still really appreciate what they were able to do for me and even though I'm at another team, I think that that's great for them and hopefully it continues to boost their confidence and get some sponsorship money. We need as many cars out here as we can get.
Q. At the end of the race were you holding back a little bit?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: At the beginning of that last run where Dario was running up behind us, we were really patient, making sure that, you know, we didn't over heat the tires or anything like that. We had a number -- I had a number that I knew that I wanted to run to. It was just enough to stay ahead of those guys. We could easily have went out there and pulled way ahead of them but there was no reason to. We knew we were going it get in traffic. We knew we were going keep the car underneath us. We tried to run as smart and as patient a race as we could. I had Roger in my ear all night: "Patience, patience, patience." Sometimes I need that. It was a good day for us.
Q. Your previous win here at Richmond was more dramatic in that you passed Helio with, what, three or five to go, and then you passed Gil and led the race at the checker only. Compare the two, which is more satisfying for you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: They are both for different reasons, being able -- the passage there at the end was great, but we had a good car. What we needed on that particular day was about 40 laps of green flag running before the tires really started to heat up and to work well.
And then, you know, tonight, it was a little bit different. I think somebody said out of my 15 race wins up to this point, seven of them were running the Top-10 closest finishes in IRL history, I hate that. I like the fact that it's exciting for the fans but it's really nerve-wracking for me.
I like days like today where we could go out there and just run hard, lead a whole bunch of laps and end up winning the race. We've had the opposite happen, led a bunch of laps and not won the race.
It was a very satisfying race for us. They both have very special place in my heart, the Honda's 100th victory was cool, as well. I'm looking forward to seeing what new things we can accomplish, and obviously Helio and I will both be battling to get Roger's 130th win next week at Kansas. Each race win that I have is special for different reasons and holds different places in my heart.
Q. If you can talk about the pass of Helio and talking about patience at that point versus really trying to go for it, I mean, was Roger in your ear then telling you to pass him or what?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: No. Roger said whoever gets the jump on the start, you know, we'll let lead a couple laps, and then, you know, if one guy seems a little quicker than the other, maybe we'll let him go.
But Helio and I are both competitors and we know how tough it is to pass here. You don't ever want to let that lead go. We basically got up behind him. It was fine to run there. We kind of got away from a couple of the other cars and we basically came up to some lap traffic and Helio could not get a run on them, could not get by them.
So I decided to quit saving fuel and try to get a run on him, and once I did, I could go each one of those next four guys and go basically in consecutive laps and basically was able to allow me to pull a lit bit of a lead out. And that was key, our car handled probably the best in traffic of anybody's; and really that was what allowed us to win this race is that we continued to be able to keep the momentum up and the car handled really good.
And, you know, I just tried to make sure that I was patient and didn't put the car in any places where, you know, I was going to harm it or take myself out of the race.
THE MODERATOR: Bruce wanted me to ask you, what would it be like to get Roger his first IRL championship since you robbed them of one in 2002 -- those were his words, not mine. No, he said denied. See, I wouldn't be a very good reporter. I'd change things around.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: No, it would be great. That's what I told -- that's what I told Roger and Tim Cendric after winning the Indianapolis 500 in the close fashion that we did. I said: "I hope that makes up for Texas in '02." They said -- well, they didn't really say anything. They wanted both, I think.
But that's -- you know, that's the good thing about that team, they all want more. I think that being able to come out here and to be running the way we are for the championship. You know, last year it was a major uphill struggle. We went through the first six races of the season thinking we had a shot and things kind of fell apart for us. We had some bad races and Dan went on to continue to win a bunch of races.
I just look at it as to be able to give Roger something that he first of all can't buy; and second of all has never been able to get before is an unbelievable thing. Indy was almost as satisfying for me to be able to win that for him as it was for me, and I think a championship would be even better.
So we're just going to keep going, try to win some more race, try make sure that we make it to the end of all of them and hopefully we'll keep going with it and we'll do everything we need to do to win that championship at the end of the year.
Again, I don't want it to be one of those close things where I come down to the last race and I'm 10 points ahead of Helio, and I have to win the race to beat him. I want it to be a little bit easier, I want to go in there and have 30 points at least. Probably won't happen, but we're going to try.
Q. If you could talk about what the last month has done for you in terms of transforming you as a driver?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know if it's done much to transform me as a driver. It makes me more confident in myself outside the car. I don't feel like I always have to answer the question: "When are you going to win Indy? Are you ever going to win Indy?" That was the first thing that everybody always asked me: "Why did you crash at Indy?" Things like that.
Now this year, at least I have that win, until next year, nobody can ask me: What happened at Indy. Yeah, we won. It's all good things.
I think that confidence outside the car probably translates a little inside the car. If I'm a little more patient and I decided I wanted to retire tomorrow, I could do that without any regrets and say I did not do something that I wanted to do.
I've been able to accomplish everything I wanted to in racing. I didn't even as a kid, I wanted to go and sometime compete at the Indianapolis 500. That was my goal. I didn't ever really dream of winning it. Yeah, I dreamed about, you know, maybe sometime you could be there, but it was about how do I get to the Indianapolis 500. After that being everything has been bonus since then. Once I got there and got all the questions, how come you never won Indy, are you ever going to win; then I decided I needed to do that. And I decided since everybody always asks me that, that would probably be a question that I would always ask myself when it was over with.
Now that I've been able to do that, I know that I don't have to ask myself that question anymore.
Q. At three-quarters of a mile, this is the shortest oval in IRL racing. Would you like to see more tracks like this, you seem to have the number on this one.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There's a track that they are building in Iowa that I think is basically a 7/8ths mile version of this, so just a little bit bigger. You know, I hope we go run there. It's going to be one of the newest tracks built. It's going to have all of the state-of-the-art newest stuff, so I think it will be a great racetrack for us. It's a place that we don't have a whole lot of racing in that area, so I think that that would be great.
As far as going to -- I don't know what we would go to that would be more exciting than this. You know, I don't know what our cars would do at Martinsville, but that might be exciting, too. We'd have to put some stronger suspension on them, too, I'm pretty sure.
Q. Four cautions at this track seems a little low for this size of a track. Have you all -- I'm asking to you kind of speak for every driver, really, but it seemed like you all have really come to terms with what this track can offer and what you all can do on it.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: On one hand. On another, I think that, you know, everybody has got a pretty good idea the sixth time we came here there was only two new people and everybody has been here at least three times.
I think that this is a track that we really, you know, love coming to. It's a track where there is room to pass, even with how small it is. The number of cautions was probably lower than I think we probably ever seen here. And you know, I think the fact that only one of them was from an accident was even more so surprising.
But I think Firestone brought a good tire for us to run, something that was pretty consistent throughout the run. Everybody knew what they had.
You know, I think that one of the things that Brian Barnhardt really stressed in the drivers' meeting was looking out for your competitors as much as you are for yourself. Everybody wants to win, but given that little bit of a room, I saw guys out there that there was times where I could have made, you know, rash decisions and pushed things a little bit more. But just I think everybody was very patient tonight and did a lot of things right out there.
Q. How was the race physically? How do you feel right now?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I felt really good until I started doing the hat dance. But no, it's pretty warm out there. You don't notice it and you've got all of the adrenaline going. I feel pretty good about what we were able to do tonight. Obviously I sweated a lot and can't wait to go take a shower. But other than that, I feel great.
It's not nearly as bad as what it could have been. I I've been here when it's been much hotter. So I like the fact that it was a nice, cooler night. It's not only good for us, but also good for the fans. So hopefully we'll have many more to come just like this.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, thank you, congratulations, and appreciate what you and Helio and Jeremy and Susan and Adam do for us as track promoters. Thank you.
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