SunTrust Indy Challenge
Title Upset in the Making?
by Esteban Morales
June 24, 2006
Earlier in the season Sam Hornish Jr. told the racing world that he would be satisfied if his sole win of the year came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Prior to the SunTrust Indy Challenge Hornish lived up to his word while teammate Helio Castroneves continued to dominate the championship standings on the strength of three wins and three poles. However, after gifting a win to Castroneves at Texas Motor Speedway and crashing during practice for Saturday's race, all fell into place for Hornish under the lights at Richmond International Raceway.
Though Hornish was fast on Thursday and Friday he was beaten to the pole by Castroneves with Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp starting in second. Hornish got off the grid in third but quickly moved into second with Marco Andretti and Vitor Meira right behind. Castroneves tried to open a lead on the rest of the field but was foiled by lapped traffic that allowed Hornish and Andretti to close in by lap 20. On lap 39 Hornish saw an opening to take the lead and did just that. The new leader began to pull away only to have his five-second lead evaporate during a yellow for debris on lap 53. Following pit stops Hornish led the grid back to the green on lap 62 but slowed behind the Honda pace car after Jeff Simmons slid into the SAFER Barrier while exiting turn 2 a few laps later.
Simmons safely made his way back to the Rahal Letterman camp as the field restarted on lap 73. Hornish began to open a lead once again as Castroneves and Sharp battled for second under the lights. By lap 140 Hornish was over two seconds clear of the nearest car while Andretti climbed to second in the midst of lapped traffic. A second yellow for debris slowed Marlboro Team Penske's driver and allowed the field to dive into pit lane for the final scheduled stops of the night. Hornish kept his lead while Dario Franchitti was catapulted to second with Castroneves in tow.
Following the lap 165 restart the top two remained the same for some time as Franchitti attempted to chase down Hornish. Hornish kept Franchitti at bay while Castroneves faded to seventh and began struggling with low tire pressure. Just as Meira unexpectedly dove into second around Franchitti Castroneves blew his right rear tire with only three laps remaining. In a controversial move to stay atop the championship standings Castroneves limped his three-wheeled Dallara along the track for the last three laps under yellow while Hornish cruised to his first post-Indy victory. Although Castroneves kept his championship lead the win brought Hornish within five points of his teammate with half the season left on the calendar.