Goals High For Hornish

Following his win in the Toyota Indy 300 on Feb. 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sam Hornish Jr. said winning his first race with Marlboro Team Penske ranked high on his list of racing accomplishments.

It remains to be seen what winning an Indianapolis 500 for Penske would mean to the two-time Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion.

"I think half to three-quarters of those guys (who didn't win their first start for Roger Penske) won an Indy 500 for Roger, so that's the main thing," Hornish said. "That's what I want to do."

Though Hornish is one of the most successful IndyCar Series drivers over the last three seasons, he has been snake-bitten when it comes to the IndyCar Series' crown jewel.

Hornish, whose 12 victories rank first on the IndyCar Series all-time wins list, has never finished better than 14th in the Indy 500, and has never started in the first two rows.

He was running solidly in the top-10 last season when he suffered an engine failure late in the event. Despite his struggles the 24-year-old from Defiance, Ohio hopes to turn the tide this May with his new team.

"The big thing is to remain focused and do our job just the way we've been doing it, and things should go pretty well," Hornish said. "We go to a lot of tracks that I like. I really like Phoenix and Motegi. I've only had one chance to race (at Motegi) and I had a great time there last year. And especially Indianapolis."

Penske drivers have excelled at Indy. The team has won 13 Indianapolis 500 titles, including last year's race with Gil de Ferran, whose retirement led to Penske decision to hire Hornish.

"The first race of the season, getting a result like that, builds up not only the confidence for (Hornish) but also for the entire team," said two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who finished second to his new teammate at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "And it's good when things like that happen."

A confident Penske team isn't likely to draw cheers from the rest of the IndyCar Series competitors. Andretti Green Racing driver Dan Wheldon said he views Hornish and Castroneves as equal threats for race wins.

"I don't think any one of them's going to be any better than the other," he said. "I think they'll both be very strong. On each given day, whoever turns out to have the better car will end up with the result."

As for Hornish, he's just focused on doing well in the next IndyCar Series event, the Copper World Indy 200 on March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway.
"I'm just really looking forward to these next couple of races leading up to the 500 and the 500," he said. "We'll see how we get through those."
***
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season continues with the Copper World Indy 200 at 4 p.m. (EST) on March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on ABC and the IMS Radio Network. The Menards Infiniti Pro Series Phoenix 100 will take place at 2:45 p.m. on March 20. The race will be broadcast by ESPN2 on a tape delay on March 25.

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