FONTANA, Calif. - Sam Hornish Jr. aims to be patient and go fast - not necessarily a contradiction.
The Indy Race League driver credited patience for last year's victory at California Speedway, when he set an open-wheel racing record by averaging 207.15 mph for the 400-mile event.
"I say a lot of times that you need patience. I don't say I always use it," Hornish said, smiling. "There are times when I'm pretty patient and I get things right.
"But there are still times when I get ahead of myself. I'm still learning."
Hornish, the two-time defending champ in the Toyota 400, tries to make it three in a row Sunday.
He averaged 214.92 mph on his fastest lap in a Dallara/Toyota during Friday's practice runs.
Dan Wheldon, a distant second behind series points leader Tony Kanaan heading into the season's final two races, had the fastest run at 217.22 mph.
"It's nice to know that if I don't win the championship, a close friend will win it," Wheldon said of his Andretti Green teammate. "I feel like I've done all that I can to win it."
Buddy Rice was second fastest in practice at 216.94 mph with Helio Castroneves third at 216.61.
Kanaan, who can clinch the points title by finishing in the top four at Fontana, was next with a lap at 216.54 mph.
"We need a win," Kanaan said. "If we win the race, we win the championship."
Last year at California Speedway, Hornish bided his time and drafted behind leaders to conserve fuel, then came on to win in record fashion.
"When it came up to the end, a couple of guys had taken themselves out of the race by mistakes," he said.
Hornish is considered a savvy driver who can get the most out of a car despite the fact he's only 25.
"It's been a long road, even for just being 25. I've spent 14-plus years racing," said Hornish, who received a go-cart for his 11th birthday and at 21 became the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race.
He has won 12 of 66 IRL starts and finished in the top three in 29 others.
"I had some success early, but I feel like I haven't done everything I want to as far as the races I want to win," he said. "Obviously, the Indy 500 is a big goal. But I feel pretty accomplished in what I've been able to do so far."
He fully realizes there's a lot left to learn.
"There are a lot of things you still need to work on, like your timing in shifting and braking and all that, and preparing yourself to do all the other day-to-day stuff in racing, like interviews," Hornish said. "There are a lot of things that people don't realize are a part of it. You don't have to just be good at what you do, you have to be a good spokesman for it, too." Hornish won this year's opener in Homestead, his debut for Marlboro Team Penske, but hasn't won since.
A two-time series points champion, he's out of the running for this year's title.
"So I've got to go out there and try to win. That's all that there is for me," he said.
His approach to Sunday's race will be similar to last year.
"As long as we go out there and stay smart and make sure that we're making rounds at the end, there's always a possibility that we can figure out something," Hornish said.
NASCAR TRUCK SERIES: Travis Kvapil won his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pole Friday, and Toyota trucks swept the top four positions for the American Racing Wheels 200 at California Speedway.
Kvapil, the defending series champion, hadn't won a pole in 90 appearances. He lapped the two-mile speedway at a record average of 178.669 mph.
Mike Skinner, the No. 1 qualifier a week ago at Las Vegas, averaged 177.576 mph - 0.222 seconds slower than Kvapil - but will fall to the rear of the field today because of a pre-qualifying engine change.
Rookie David Reutimann of Zephyrhills and Hank Parker Jr. qualified third and fourth.