Hornish grabs third IRL title

Series winner takes 3rd in Indy 300

Wheldon edges Dixon for win

Auto Racing

September 11, 2006

JOLIET, Ill. -- Sam Hornish's strategy was simple: Stay out of trouble and avoid mistakes.

He did just that yesterday and claimed his third Indy Racing League series championship.

While Dan Wheldon beat Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon by 0.1897 seconds to win the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, Hornish finished third, 0.2323 of a second behind. But he celebrated a championship.

"I can't think of how next year could be any better, but hopefully, it is," said Hornish, the series winner in 2001 and 2002 for Panther Racing.

Hornish and Wheldon finished the season with 475 points, but Hornish had four victories - two more than Wheldon. And he did enough yesterday to give Team Penske owner Roger Penske his first title and claim a $1 million bonus.

"When we came over to the IRL, our goal was to win a championship," Penske said. "The guy sitting on my right [Hornish] beat us the first two years - beat us like a drum. To get him on the team and then deliver here is pretty special. ... This is another one for the record books. But we've got to do it next year."

The day began with Penske driver Helio Castroneves holding a one-point lead over Hornish with 431, with Wheldon and Dixon 19 and 21 points back, respectively. Castroneves was fourth yesterday and finished the season with 473 points, while Dixon was fourth at 460.

Wheldon led with 10 laps to go and stayed in front, while Dixon and Hornish volleyed the second and third spots over the final laps.

The way the season went, it was fitting that things ended this way - a tight race, with Ganassi and Penske drivers jockeying for position.

The teams dominated most of the year, winning the first nine races and 11 of 13 heading into the weekend.

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