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Hornish beats Unser in IRL's closest finish

©Associated Press
September 9, 2002

JOLIET, Ill. -- Wheel-to-wheel with Al Unser Jr. for the last 22 laps, Sam Hornish Jr. nosed ahead in the last turn to win the Delphi Indy 300 on Sunday in the closest Indy car finish in history.

He won by 24 ten-thousandths of a second -- about 3 inches.

The victory gave Hornish the lead in the points race, 12 over fourth-place finisher Helio Castroneves, with the final race Sept. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Gil de Ferran slammed into the wall on Lap 52 and suffered a concussion. He lost consciousness for a few seconds, team owner Roger Penske said, and was airlifted to a local hospital. The 34-year-old Brazilian was hospitalized overnight for observation. He was awake and alert, and listed as stable.

ANYONE'S TITLE: Not even 10 laps into the Monte Carlo 400 Saturday, a crash that ended Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin's night created an opportunity for his pursuers.

Many capitalized, and with 10 races left, stock car racing's premier series has its closest championship race in history.

Marlin entered with a 91-point lead over defending champion Jeff Gordon, who quickly looked like the odds-on choice to leave Richmond International Raceway as the leader in pursuit of his fifth championship.

Then Gordon pulled his Chevrolet into the garage, a 40th-place finish in the making that sabotaged his chance to make any notable gains.

Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace also looked for a time like the big winners. But Stewart's Pontiac developed rear-end problems that dropped him from third to 30th, and Wallace blew a tire with 11 laps to go while running second and was relegated to 15th.

In the end, Marlin had his second last-place finish of the season, a sore back, chest contusions and a nine-point lead over Mark Martin.

"It seems like when one of us has problems, the other one does, too," Marlin said of his team and Gordon's, which dropped to fourth in points. "We'll just do the best we can every week from here on out like we've been doing all season, add 'em up at Homestead and see where we stack up."

The race started with 167 points separating the top five. It ended with the five jumbled and just 118 points apart. No top five has been so close since the points system was implemented in 1975.

"With 10 races to go, I'd say you've got about 10 cars that have a shot at the championship," said Bill Elliott, who went from 265 behind Marlin in seventh place to just 184 off the lead.

A driver can make up 151 points in a single race.

In other news, Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates will field a Havoline Dodge next season. The team signed Busch driver Jamie McMurray to drive for Ganassi's third Winston Cup team in 2003.

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