Kentucky: Hornish and Chevy dominate

Sam Hornish Jr put Chevrolet's troubled season firmly back on-track, dominating at Kentucky Speedway to take his and the American manufacturer's first win of the year in the first full outing for the new Cosworth-built Gen IV engine.

Kentucky: Hornish and Chevy dominate

The double IRL champion pulled away from the field with ease during a record-setting win. At times leading by more than 15 seconds over the closest driver and turning race laps as fast as 218.545 mph, Hornish set a race record by covering 300 miles in just 1hr29m44.6120s - 197.897 mph. The pace, assisted by just one caution period, broke the Indy Racing League record of 180.917 mph set last month at Michigan International Speedway. Hornish's ninth win also moved him into sole possession of the IRL record for career victories.

It also broke series records for most consecutive green-flag laps (146), fewest cautions (one) and most consecutive green-flag laps to start a race (146). Remarkably, the nearly incident-free race fell 0.1 mph short of becoming the fastest open-wheel race in history. CART recorded a race speed of 197.995 during Jimmy Vasser's win at California Speedway on November 2002.

"I was pretty relaxed," Hornish said. "I just tried to keep it where it needed to be and tried to extend the lead as much as I could. I know there are times when you get a big lead and get complacent. That's when strange things happen. I just tried to stay calm and focused."

The dominating victory gave Hornish a welcome change of subject for the day. Instead of questions of where Hornish will race next season, he was asked if perhaps the IRL IndyCar Series hadn't given Chevrolet too much of a break. Critics have charged that the IRL allowed GM Racing to replace the faltering Gen III Chevy with a Cosworth that appears to be stronger than its rivals, Toyota and Honda.

Naturally, Hornish disagreed. "I don't know what the problem is," Hornish said. "When you look at the rest of the finishers, it goes Toyota, Honda, Chevy, Toyota. It's about as equal as it gets. We worked so hard on making sure that our setups are what they need to be. We were running equal to them when we were 60 horsepower down. You've got to expect that when we get the 60 horsepower back, we're going to be a little bit quicker than they are. We won five races last year; it's not like we're just some no-names who got a new engine and went out there and won."

Not surprisingly, the Toyota and Honda drivers who finished in the wake of the new Chevy weren't pleased. Nothing wrong with some healthy competition, the opponents say, as long as it seems fair. Allowing Chevy to introduce an entirely new engine in mid-season - one built by a company owned by Ford - isn't going over well with its opponents.

"Whatever advantage our time and hard work had gained us has just been given away," said Bryan Herta, who finished third in his Andretti Green No. 27 Dallara/Honda. "That doesn't set really well. I know that the guys at Honda will continue to work hard. They'll catch up one way or another, but it would be nice if we could get a little help."

Second-place finisher Scott Dixon, a critic of the Cosworth allowance from the start, watched as Hornish lapped every other car in the race except his and Herta's, pulling away by more than 15 seconds before the only caution flag of the race - for Kenny Brack's burning car - slowed the pace with 54 laps remaining.

"It's the same as what I've said before," said Ganassi Racing star Dixon. "It's good for the competition, but I also think it's not fair."

The criticism has riled Hornish, who had been competitive with the top Toyota and Honda teams before the new engine, especially on shorter tracks that rewarded handling over horsepower.

"I feel bad that those guys feel that way, but I don't feel bad about winning," Hornish said. "I know how hard these (Panther Racing) guys have worked this year. They put in four times more hours a week than I do. I feel better about this win for them than I do for myself."

Hornish eventually finished 1.1712 seconds ahead of Dixon. Following Herta to the finish line were Al Unser Jr., Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, who maintained his slim lead in the series points standings. Kanaan now has an eight-point lead on Castroneves, 12 on Dixon, 13 on team-mate Gil de Ferran and 77 on a rapidly-closing Hornish.

"Let's take it one race at a time," Kanaan said. "It was a long day for us, but we got some points."

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