IRL Title Chase Clear Cut

It’s all cut and dried, no questions asked. Sam Hornish Jr. wins or finishes second in Sunday’s Indy Racing League Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, he’s the IRL champion for the second straight year.

It’s as simple as that.

Only Hornish, who leads Helio Castroneves by 12 points heading into this Sunday’s season finale, doesn’t find that equation so simple.

“I’m not feeling any pressure, but I know all I’ve got to do is go out there, drive the car, and if I do the right thing on that day, then that’s good,” said Hornish, who has a series-high four victories this season, including last weekend’s Delphi 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. “If I don’t, then I’ve got to think about it until next March.

“I know the guys (his crew) are putting 100 percent in, and they don’t ask anything more out of me than what I can do, and I do the same thing. I don’t ask any more out of them than what they are capable of, and that’s what’s worked out well for us. We’ve had our ups and downs this year, more than we’d like to have. We’ll just continue to keep fighting and doing the best we can because there’s nothing more that we can do.

“We’d like to say yeah, we are going to go in there (Texas) and win the race, and we’re going to lead from start to finish, but it’s not like that’s going to happen. We are going to have people in there, and it’s just going to be staying out of trouble and strategy. So, we just have to look at our numbers, and the guys will try to analyze what went wrong (at Chicago) and try to prevent it from happening at Texas. That’s what makes us good: We all know we’re not perfect, but we keep trying to be a little bit better.”

Castroneves, who has a pair of victories this season but hasn’t won since the Indianapolis 500, is full of hope heading into the Chevy 500 that he can bring home his first IRL crown. If he doesn’t win the race, however, that means that Hornish will have to slip up.

“It’s great we’re going into Texas still battling for the IRL championship,” said Castroneves, the driver of Roger Penske’s No. 3 Dallara Chevrolet. “We raced there earlier this year, and we finished fourth, so hopefully we’ll be able to bring the title home – since I’ve never won a national championship, this would be a great goal to accomplish.

“Marlboro Team Penske has been doing a fantastic job all year, so now we have to stay focused for one more race and execute this weekend. It should be an exciting event for the fans and a great conclusion to the 2002 IRL season.”

If Castroneves wins the race and leads the most laps, and Hornish finishes second, then the standins end in a tie. By virtue of his advantage over Castroneves in victories (it would 4-3 if Castroneves wins) this season, Hornish wins it.

Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t exactly kind to Hornish the first time the series visited the 1.5-mile oval on June 8, for the Boom Town 500. Hornish crashed 126 laps into the 200-lap event, and wound up finishing a disappointing 18th.

It was one of only three times Hornish has finished outside the Top 10 this year, but it just happened to be one of three-consecutive rough finishes for the driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara Chevy. The two races previous to Texas, he finished 25th at Indianapolis and 17th at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway.

Hornish, however, knows how to win at Texas, as he is the race’s defending champion. He finished third in the June race in 2001 as well.

“We had a really good car there in June and had a problem – I started thinking about points and got involved in something we shouldn’t have been involved in,” Hornish said. “Basically I got off and let somebody go by me so that I could follow them, and that’s probably the last time I’ve done that.

“Everything should work out fairly well at Texas. Pennzoil Panther Racing has won the last two races there, the last two fall races (Scott Goodyear won for Panther in October of 2000). We think we have a very good setup. We thought we had a really good setup at St. Louis and didn’t win that, either. You just have to take it day by day.”

So, will Hornish put it all on the line Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET start)?

“I put my best out on the line at Indianapolis and finished 25th, put my best out on the line in Kansas and finished second, third at a couple of other places,” Hornish said. “I know that the team puts 100 percent into it, and they always put their best out on the racetrack, and it wouldn’t be fair to them if I didn’t. So, every race I go out there – sometimes it gets me in trouble and sometimes it works out good for us – whether nor not we hit it at the right point in time.”

Qualifying for the Chevy 500 is set for 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Billy Boat holds the IRL qualifying record at TMS of 225.979 mph, set in the fall of 1998.

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IZOD Indy Car Series, 2002

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