Hornish Leads Penske 1-2 in Phoenix

Hornish Leads Penske 1-2 in Phoenix
Sam Hornish Jr led his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to the chequered flag after an unlucky Dario Franchitti struck the wall with two laps to go in the XM Satellite Radio 200 at the Phoenix International Speedway.

The Scot was bitterly unlucky not to win after being easily the strongest runner for the majority of the race, but managed to finish fourth as the blistering pace of the race meant there were only five drivers on the lead lap at the finish.

The race began under surprisingly gloomy weather, with the clouds hanging around for most of the race. The weather meant that temperatures were much lower than usual as poleman Bryan Herta led the grid around to greet the green flag.

Andretti Green teammate Dan Wheldon took over the lead on the first lap, holding it for most of the opening seventy laps. Franchitti ran conservatively in the opening section of the race before putting on an incredible spurt of speed to brush off a number of drivers before the second stops.

Wheldon was finally caught by Franchitti, who overtook for the lead after Wheldon was badly baulked by Scott Dixon. Wheldon headed into the pits a lap later with the race still under green flags.

It was clear that all of the drivers were waiting for a yellow flag - stopping under racing conditions in Phoenix will guarantee the loss of a lap. Two laps later Franchitti could wait no longer, entering the pit entry just as Tomas Enge found the wall at turn four, launching the long awaited yellows.

Franchitti had no choice but to crawl through the pitlane and back onto the track until the pits opened up, undoing all of his earlier good work and eventually reentering with almost the entire field when the pits reopened.

As the pack came around to go green again Castroneves held the lead from Tony Kanaan, but Franchitti aggressively fought his way back up to second. Ryan Briscoe ran loose and into the wall for the second time in as many races, bringing out another yellow flag on lap 114 and forming a queue into the pits once more.

Hornish and Castroneves had a fierce fight from the green, running side by side for a number of laps before Hornish eventually claimed the lead outright. The battle allowed Franchitti to close up on the Penske's, running under Castroneves and into second once more, while Scott Sharp sat just behind the top three drivers.

Franchitti ran behind Hornish for a few laps before finally finding a way through and back into the lead. His car was in great condition and he steamed away from the pack, running substantially faster than his pursuers.

Unfortunately for Franchitti he lost all of his lead in traffic with Dixon baulking yet another race leader, forcing Franchitti and his pursuers four wide on the track before he found a way past, followed by Hornish and Castroneves.

Kanaan steamed by Sharp just before coming up to Dixon on lap 172, although the pair got by him notably easier than the leaders - with only ten cars on the lead lap it seemed the New Zealander had finally got used to being overtaken.

Tomas Scheckter went into the pits two laps later with an evil handling car - Phoenix is not the place to have a loose car, and the repairs put him back out in 12th position.

With so few yellow flags during the race everyone was running out of fuel, and Franchitti was the first of the leaders to pit, on lap 179, for a splash of fuel and new tyres, losing a lap in the process and coming back out in 7th.

All of the major players followed his lead - Wheldon and Kanaan were in on lap 183, with Hornish in a lap later and leaving with the same tyres. Sharp and Castroneves were in on lap 190, the latter just failing to get out ahead of the leading pair of Hornish and Franchitti.

With everyone fueled to the end it was perhaps inevitable that a yellow flag finally came out, this time for Scheckter who found the wall at the popular turn four on lap 193.

With only five drivers on the lead lap the race went green for the final time with two laps to go. Franchitti pushed Hornish hard, with the American running low on the track and the Scot immediately behind him before losing the air on his front wing; he understeered across and into the wall.

Fortunately for him it was only a glancing blow, but it was enough to ensure Hornish could take the chequered flag just ahead of his teammate, with Kanaan, Franchitti and Sharp following the Penskes across the line as the Phoenix sun finally found a way through the clouds.

Talking after the race, Hornish knew he was fortunate to take the win but thanked his team for the winning tactics: "We knew the tyres would last at our stop, so we just put enough fuel in to get us to the end of the race."

His rival Franchitti was left ruefully wishing he'd had the same idea.

Hornish now leads the championship with 90 points; Wheldon is 9 points back and ahead of Kanaan and Castroneves, who are both on 70.

XM Satellite 200, Phoenix International Speedway

Pos Driver Name Laps 1 Sam Hornish Jr. 200 2 Helio Castroneves 200 3 Tony Kanaan 200 4 Dario Franchitti 200 5 Scott Sharp 200 6 Dan Wheldon 199 7 Bryan Herta 199 8 Darren Manning 199 9 Patrick Carpentier 199 10 Kosuke Matsuura 198 11 Vitor Meira  198 12 Scott Dixon 198 13 Alex Barron 198 14 A.J. Foyt IV 195 15 Danica Patrick 194 16 Ed Carpenter 193 17 Tomas Scheckter 191 18 Roger Yasukawa 174 19 Ryan Briscoe 112 20 Tomas Enge 74 21 Paul Dana 33 22 Buddy Rice 14 
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