Hornish Hot In Phoenix
March 18, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The second year driver, who joined the Pennzoil Panther Racing Team this season, grabbed the lead on lap 168 of the 200-lap chase around the one mile oval and never looked back on his way to the checkered flag.
"The car was just great and this Panther Racing Team just does an awesome job," said an amazingly-composed Hornish during his post-race news conference. "To win my first race in just my ninth try is definitely a testimony to this team and the car and effort they put forth."
Eliseo Salazar, Buddy Lazier, Scott Sharp and Billy Boat rounded out the top five finishers.
Hornish did survive an early race scare when he and defending series champ Buddy Lazier made contact on pit road during the first round of stops. Hornish clipped Ray with his right front wing as he was leaving his pit stall, but fortunately for him, the impact did not cause any significant damage.
"That kind of got my attention there and we thought there may have been a problem," said the Defiance, Ohio native. Thankfully it turned out ok."
Pole winner Greg Ray was one of several drivers who experienced engine malfunctions on Sunday. After challenging for the lead early, Ray's engine let go near the midway point and ended his day.
"Obviously we're disappointed," Ray said. "We had a car that could compete for the win today but the motor just quit. We'll get things straightened out by the time we get to Miami."
Al Unser, Jr., who struggled all weekend, also had his day cut short with a blown engine.
"It's was tough for us today because we just never were able to produce the power we needed. I'm sure the Galles Racing team will get things back on track by the time we hit Homestead."
The celebrated appearance by Penske Racing teammates Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves also ended on a sour note. de Ferran, who qualified fifth and was running near the front, was caught up in a three-car crash on lap 76. Jeret Schroeder clipped the rear of de Ferran's car as the defending CART champion was attempting to come into the pits, sending the duo into the fourth turn wall and collecting Mark Dismore along the way.
Castroneves, who started 17th, began to move up as the race progressed, but was ultimately knocked-out by engine problems.
"We started to lose power about halfway into the race so we knew the engine was going to give us problems," said Catsroneves, who will join de Ferran in this year's Indianapolis 500. "These cars are so different from our CART cars that we wanted to get as much time as possible, but I guess it wasn't meant to be today."
Hornish became the 20th driver to win an IRNLS race in 44 series events.