Hornish wins thrilling IRL finale

Oct. 6, 2001 at 7:24 PM
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FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- IRL champion Sam Hornish passed Scott Sharp at the finish line Saturday to capture the Chevy 500 by 0.0188 seconds in the closest 1-2-3 finish in Indy car history.

Hornish won an incredible three-car battle, with Robbie Buhl finishing third, just 0.0468 seconds behind.

Hornish, Sharp and Buhl ran abreast crossing the finish line with Sharp on the low side, Hornish in the middle and Buhl on the outside in what may have been the tightest three-way finish in major auto racing annals.

Hornish's pass was the 32nd of the afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, establishing an IRL record for most lead changes.

As Hornish began his victory lap following his third-career victory -- all this season -- he was handed an American flag and drove around the 1 1/2-mile oval to the cheers of the surprisingly large crowd.

"I knew we were just a little off on gears, so in the third turn I was able to get enough to get by him," Hornish said. "I thought Robbie was going to get by me, but everybody did a great job today. The Panther team won here last year for the season finale, so this is a good way to end the season."

Despite losing by mere inches, Sharp took pride in being part of an historic finish.

"Just an unbelievable race," he said. "It was wild racing out there, almost waiting for something to happen. Hats off to Sam. I thought nobody could get around me on the outside. We came off turn 4, he still had a great run, had the momentum and got me.

"He looked a lot to try to get me, but I wouldn't let that happen. He deserved the win. We got second (in the standings) and finished third in the race, so we are happy."

Buhl was the highest-finishing Infiniti driver.

"Every time out we get better," he said. "That says a lot for the IRL to be able to put on a show like this."

Eliseo Salazar was fourth, followed by rookie Rick Treadway.

This race originally was scheduled for September 15 but was postponed after the terrorist attacks. As a result, Texas Motor Speedway and IRL officials were unsure how many of the 70,000 fans who purchased tickets would be able to return for the rescheduled race.

The event also went head-to-head with the Texas-Oklahoma college football showdown at the Cotton Bowl in nearby Dallas.

But under bright sunshine and clear skies, an estimated 50,000 fans came to the speedway to see the IRL season finale.

Because inclement weather on Friday wiped out qualifying, the 25-car starting lineup was based on the 2001 standings, which meant newly crowned champion Hornish started on the pole alongside Buddy Lazier.

The race culminated the best season in IRL history as the series gained momentum. On Thursday, officials announced a 15-race 2002 schedule with the addition of an event at California Speedway.

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