Bad brakes leave Hornish pondering what-ifs

Published April 3, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Sam Hornish lay briefly on the pit wall, stretching his arms and perhaps contemplating what might have been.

An ambitious pitting strategy had him in contention, until his brakes got in the way.

Trailing five drivers with 18 laps to go - but on track to finish high because he would not need another pit stop for fuel - Hornish ran wide in a turn, falling to ninth and ending his shot at a win.

Hornish, who finished ninth, essentially lost his brakes and had trouble slowing his car. It took a physical toll as he tried to push harder on the brake pedal.

Though he might have won had he been able to drive through the problem, Hornish said he wasn't interested.

"Toward the end I didn't even want to be in the car anymore," he said, shaking his head.

Hornish said his team decided not to take a fresh set of tires late in the race. A late stop would have cost the team valuable time.

"It just didn't work for us," said Hornish, 26. "It was a bad call. You take a gamble and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

After the race, Hornish favored his right arm, sore from fighting to control the car. He sat briefly on the pit wall as his wife rubbed it; he later used ice.

Even without the brake trouble, it was a rough day for the seventh-year IndyCar veteran.

Hornish, who started fourth, had a run-in earlier with Dan Wheldon. As Wheldon tried to pass under caution on Lap 56, he and Hornish came together.

Indy Racing League officials had scored Wheldon ahead of Hornish after a pit cycle under caution, but Hornish had pulled ahead exiting the pits.

The contact, which Wheldon said was his fault, forced the defending champion out of the race.

Despite his troubled afternoon, Hornish remained in good spirits and raced toward victory lane to congratulate Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Castroneves has offered advice about road-course racing to Hornish, who prefers ovals. And Hornish, who qualified one spot ahead of Castroneves, has learned.

"He's telling me less and less as it goes and I continue to get a little better," Hornish said. "Maybe after today he'll tell me a little more."

But Castroneves said his teammate is just fine.

"Let me tell you, Sam is doing a hell of a job," he said. "Whatever kind of vitamin he took over the winter, it worked."

Hornish said he expects to shine at the next two courses: the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

They are his favorites, but he won't be promising any victories.

"You have to keep working at it," he said. "It doesn't come overnight."