Road To Chicagoland: Sam Hornish Jr
September 7, 2006 | 9:00 A.M. EST
“I won the 500,” the two-time IndyCar Series champion said. “Even if I win more Indy 500s, I’ll always remember that I won my first one in 2006.”
The 2006 season has been a banner year for the native of Defiance, Ohio. In addition to the landmark win at Indianapolis, he also scored wins at Kansas (on his 27th birthday), Richmond and Kentucky. A third IndyCar Series crown would allow Hornish to join Dan Wheldon as the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series title in the same season.
“No matter what the results this year, we’ve tried to put it behind us,” Hornish said. “After every race, even if you’ve won, you put that behind. Things have turned out pretty well this year.”
But there’s been disappointment, as well. Hornish fell out of races at Michigan (mechanical) and Nashville (accident) despite leading and racing among the frontrunners.
“Michigan was a tough race to put behind because there wasn’t anything I could do and there wasn’t anything the team could do,” Hornish said. “I lost a lot of points to Helio (Castroneves) and Dan (Wheldon) and Scott (Dixon), as well. Nashville wasn’t as bad because I know what I did there. We just have to make sure we don’t do that again.”
Hornish enters the final race of the 2006 season trailing his teammate, Castroneves, by one point and with Wheldon 18 behind. Hornish, who outdueled Castroneves to claim the race win and the title in the season finale in 2002, is confident due to his experience and his track record at Chicagoland Speedway, where he’s recorded two wins and five top-five finishes in five races.
“I know what to do if I’m leading the points, and I know what to do if I’m behind,” he said. “I know most of the time what I’m capable of and what I need to do in a race. I always want to win the race, but I think the big thing is to be smart about it and give myself the opportunity to win the race and the title.”
And he knows that if he comes up short in the championship race, he always has something to remember the season and something to look forward to in 2007.
“The biggest thing entering the year was Indy and try to capture the win there,” Hornish said. “No matter what happens after that, after you win Indy, you’ve had a good season. We’ve won some races, but we’re always looking forward to what the next thing is.”