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July 2, 2006
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS
THE MODERATOR: Dan Wheldon has joined us in the media center. It's your fifth top-five finish. Almost had him at the end. Take us through the last couple of laps.
DAN WHELDON: It was just, you know, very close. I think to tell you the truth today, Marlboro Team Penske and Sam did a better job than us. Not taking away credit from the boys at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, they've worked very hard. You know, they're dedicated to winning, but sometimes you have a winning car and sometimes you don't. We just tried everything that we could.
He was a little bit quicker than us, I think. Mechanically his car was working a little better. So it was second for us.
THE MODERATOR: A couple comments from Vitor. You tried to pull your way through the field. Another third-place finish at Kansas Speedway. Take us through your race.
VITOR MEIRA: We started pushing quite a lot, worked our way through. Every pit stop was one major change. We worked on tires, worked on wings. The last set of tires, last stint, the car was the best. That's why we gained so many positions by the last stint and the last restart.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and take some questions from the press.
Q. Dan, what happened the last five laps? You were side by side with him. At what point did you realize you weren't going to keep that high line and race with him?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I mean, I just wasn't quick enough. It was going to be difficult for me. You know, you can drive with Sam very close. I tried pinning him down a couple of times. Obviously I've got to respect the fact he needs racing room and his car was pushing a little bit. It got to the point where he was just quicker.
I tried to stay there, but he just gradually was working in front of me. Then as soon as he got clear, I went, he came up in front of me. It was very difficult to pass.
I tried for as long as I could. I was surprised that I stayed outside him for as many laps as I did. I was hoping I could go two more. Unfortunately, wasn't to be.
Q. Vitor, how close do you think you are to breaking through for your first victory?
VITOR MEIRA: Six times close. I don't know. Every weekend, I mean, we are working our way up. We are doing everything we can to get the first victory. It's not going to come without work. It's not going to come because we are doing something that we are not supposed to, because we are doing everything right. It's just a matter of putting it all together. Continue (indiscernible) with the team, keep working the same way we are, because we are constantly putting ourselves in position to do it.
Q. Both of you, what were the track conditions like? How did the heat affect the car? What is it like driving on this track? Did you have two grooves today?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think there was definitely two grooves. It's a little different to how it's been here in the past 'cause, you know, the higher groove is definitely slower. Before you could run up there a little bit more comfortably. I think everybody knows the deal when they come to this particular race: it's always very hot, the track temperature's high, the ambient's high. With the winds, it moves the car around a lot.
I think that's where you saw us, particularly the first stint, everybody was running the high line, certainly in three and four where the wind was pushing you up also. We were doing that just to kind of be easy on the front tires, but because we had to also.
You know, certainly this track is one that's entertaining for the fans. I think the drivers like coming here. Certainly I think the fact it was more challenging this year made it even more enjoyable.
VITOR MEIRA: Same here. At the start of the race, everybody moved up a little bit and washed out off of three, mainly because we had a tailwind on the back straight. It was just making things very difficult turning into turn three. I mean, same deal. Everybody kind of looked for more room around the track and wasn't as grippy as in the morning.
THE MODERATOR: Questions from the press box.
Q. (No microphone.)
DAN WHELDON: Absolutely not. At this point in the championship, there's no point in me coming in second to a Penske car. I've got to win or do nothing.
I mean, I tried everything that I possibly could. I had a couple looks low on him. You know, the guy, I have immense respect for Sam Hornish. He's a very talented guy. He can read a track very well on ovals. He can read what the car behind him wants to do. You know, I've learned a lot from him. I think he had the measure of me today.
Like I said, his car mechanically seemed to work very well. To be fair, he deserved to win. He drove hard. I think certainly the two of us, we tested each other a lot today. I think you could see the respect was there because we drove incredibly close on what is considered this year to be a track very difficult to run side by side. I give credit to him.
I also give credit to Honda. It's very difficult to produce engines so close, with such a quality. They do a fantastic job at that, as does Firestone with the tires. To get a tire that works so well in these hot conditions with gusty winds is pretty impressive.
You know, it's just we came up short.
THE MODERATOR: Back down here.
Q. Did the crosswinds into three and four make passing a premium on the track today?
VITOR MEIRA: Who is that for?
Q. Either one of you.
VITOR MEIRA: It was very hard, mostly because everybody was using a lot of track. Again, on the beginning of the race, I couldn't really stay flat up there. Then we worked on the car and, I mean, mostly because we had the tailwind plus turning into three we got a little bit of a bump. I guess that's why most of the accidents was happening there.
But, I mean, the Panther car we improved and improved. Again, by the last stint, was the best one. Everything stayed consistent. Engine with Honda and the tires with Firestone, the tires never really went off. That's what allowed us to catch up.
Q. A question for both of you. Could you just kind of talk a little bit about Castroneves' tire problems. On one hand, you have to be thinking about trying to win this race, focus on this race. Is it hard to put it in the back of your mind, the fact that the points race is so close and something like this comes up, you've got to take advantage of it?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I mean, obviously I'm not sure what happened to Helio. He obviously dropped to the back early on in the race. I think with his luck in comparison to Hornish, if he doesn't win this championship, there's something wrong. He's had a couple of lucky ones.
But for us, I think for me personally, I like to be leading the championship because then you can kind of control what goes on in the races more. Right now, as the people chasing, we need to take every opportunity we can get. Sometimes it gets a little frustrating when you have an opportunity to make some points up and you don't. But I think that's what is making this championship very exciting this year. It's very competitive.
The cars are handling a little different on a lot of these bigger tracks, it's making them more difficult to get around. I learned something from Scott today. Scott was able to run very low. When I saw what he was doing, he'll probably be a little mad because I was taking the air off his front wing, but as soon as I moved low, I was able to run quicker. It's kind of moving the car around to get where you need to be. Like you said, you've got to try to maximize points. Just a little short.
Q. Dan, you're still not shaving.
DAN WHELDON: I think Target are going to get pissed now if I don't shave, so maybe I should. Who knows.
Q. (No microphone.)
DAN WHELDON: I'm just driven to win a lot. You know, we definitely have the capability to. It's very frustrating because the cars are very, very quick. I mean, you look at the laps that we do, whether it be in qualifying or the race. Right now we're just not quite as consistent as Sam's car. Sam definitely seems to be, in terms of outright race pace, probably the quickest car. Although we can be as quick if not quicker a lot of the times during the races, we're just not quite as consistent. That's something we're certainly going to work on before Nashville. We've got a little bit of time.
We're going to come out at Nashville very strong. Chip wasn't here today. He's not going to be happy with me that I came second. We just need to keep pushing.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you for coming in.
We're going to go ahead and get started with today's winner of the Kansas Lottery Indy 300, Sam Hornish, Jr. This is your first victory at Kansas Speedway, but your second consecutive victory of the 2006 Indy Racing League. He won last week at Richmond. And it's your birthday. Happy birthday.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: 27 years old. His parents are here.
But, Sam, take us through those last couple of laps.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: The last couple laps were a little bit of fun, but a little bit nervous, too. Dan had a really good car that ran well on the outside. We could run pretty much wherever we wanted to, so I just kept it right on the bottom. That's usually the fastest line around here.
We ran side by side for a couple laps, then I was able to nudge back ahead. I was just really surprised to get out of here with a win after the way that happened. We led so much, usually it seems like when you lead that many laps early, something always tends to go wrong, you don't end up winning.
It was a pretty good day for us. The guys did an awesome job in the pits for me again today. We had a car that we could run the high line, the low line, which I think was better than most anybody else's cars out there. We just keep working away at it. Real happy to get out of here with the points lead for the championship.
THE MODERATOR: You won last week. Now you've won this week. This has got to feel really good, some good momentum going into the last half of the season.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, really good momentum. You know, we had a couple races that were off at the beginning of the year. We had a mechanical problem at St. Petersburg. I got too excited the weekend after the Indy 500. I thought I could really get on the gas, but spun out, ended up a lap down at Watkins Glen.
I think we just come to a lot of tracks that we've been fast at over the last couple years, but haven't been able to win. Richmond, we were right up there the last couple years, as well as here. Both of those races, we were able to win. It really makes us look forward to going to places like Nashville where we finished second at the last two years, Milwaukee where we won at. Of course going to Michigan where we have so many hometown fans, haven't really ever had good strong runs, but had a second three years ago.
I think there's a lot of things that are going our way as far as momentum. While we are happy to have the break next weekend, I wish that we could just keep going so we could see how this championship unfolds. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait a weekend, go to one of my favorite racetracks, Nashville. Hopefully we'll get out of there with a win this year instead of another second. I guess we could take that, as well.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take some questions from the media center.
Q. You said when you lead that many laps, you're waiting for something to go wrong. The last two weeks you have led a bunch of laps, nothing has gone wrong. Has the car been that good? Is it as dominating as it has looked?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think we were just a little bit faster than Wheldon today. Maybe he might have been a little bit better if he could have been out front. As far as in traffic, our car was quite a bit better.
Last weekend, you know, we were just really cautious. We could have gone faster at times and put bigger leads up there, but we just wanted to make sure we had the car at the end of the year after basically crashing out of the last two years.
This race for us was a lot more flat-out, a lot closer than we wanted to be. But the car, you know, has been very mechanically sound over the past two years when I ran with the team. Hopefully, you know, it will continue that way. Those guys take so much pride in what they do, making sure that car finishes a hundred percent of the laps because nothing fell off of it. Once in a while, the drivers screw up and hit something. But the big thing is those guys, they'll work 20-hour days if they have to. They'll work all night if they have to. They do a good job.
That's what these races are all about. We get a lot of credit for it, but they do so much that's really unseen, that makes it a team sport more than anybody can really know.
Q. Even though you expressed concern about leading too much early on, wasn't there some part of you, when you started gaining on Wheldon there in lap six, you overtook him in lap seven, wasn't there some part of you that thought maybe this is a good sign it could turn out to be a good day?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, you know, I guess really when you have a good-handling car, things kind of are going well for you, you just always expect that next thing to happen, for it to fall apart.
I felt all day long like this is really going good. Then that last pit stop, I think I was just a little bit slow coming in, plus Dan was able to stay out a couple more laps and run at a higher speed. Dan made it out about a second ahead of us. That I thought was going to be really hard to overcome because we were so evenly matched.
Once that yellow came out, it all worked out. It kind of flip-flopped earlier in the race where I pulled out to a lead, the yellow came out, they were able to pick up. I guess, you know, when it all comes down to it, you're always nervous about it whenever you're leading because you never know what can happen. You don't usually have time to think about it when you're second trying to get around that guy. It's something that can happen. It's how can I get ahead of him. Your mind starts to think about other things, I guess.
Q. In the laps that you and Dan ran side by side, do you have any concern running with him? You got awfully close on a number of occasions. Is he the kind of guy you can do that with without being terribly concerned?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I was more concerned because I thought he might beat me than I was about him running into me. We've bumped before. We've had some problems. But, you know, basically it's like that with every other driver. But if you remember every little thing that happens, you're not ever going to get close to anybody. You have to trust them all to a certain degree. There's just ones that you trust a little bit less than others.
Dan obviously, you know, is a 500 winner, a champion of the series. You know, he knows what he's doing. I need to make sure that I give him room and he needs to make sure that he gives me room. I think that we both did a great job of that today.
Q. Sam, considering there are points that are important, you want to win the championship, did you ever think about just hanging back in second place?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: If I couldn't get by him safely, you know, if I didn't feel comfortable about what I was doing. I knew with how he was geared on restarts, he was going to pull away from me a little bit in second and third. Once we got up to fourth and fifth gear, I would be able to catch up to him a little bit. I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be able to get all the way around him or if I'd have to run beside him. It surprised me a little bit I got around him going down the back straightaway and going into turn three.
The fact that really surprised me was that he came back, you know, got that run back on me again. I think, you know, Roger told me right before the race started, he said, If you can get him, go ahead. If you can't do it, remember we're trying to get points out here. I got a pretty good guy telling me in my ear. A couple times last year I went against what Roger said, and both times I ended up in the wall. From now on I'll just try to listen to him as much as I can.
Q. I know you've been asked this already. I know you love this state. There's talk about moving this race before the month of May into April. What would you think about that from a driver's perspective and also from the fans' perspective, please?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I think on one hand as a warm-up for Indianapolis, it's good to be able to get Midwest fans into -- kind of ramped up. We start off either usually in California or Phoenix or Florida. To get those people, the bigger percentage of people that are going to come to the race, to get them excited about IndyCar racing, get them ramped up, it's a good idea.
From the drivers' standpoint, I think the cooler temperatures would be welcomed. From the fans, as well. I don't know exactly what date they would pick. Hopefully everything would work out, it would be a great day to go out there and race. You know, we've never had a problem here with rain or anything on race day. It's always been a beautiful, scorching hot day (laughter).
One thing about it, you know you're always going to get the race in. The way I look at it, they can do whatever they need to do, whatever they think is right. It's got some benefits to being able to go to that time of the year.
THE MODERATOR: I think the media would also find some relief from the heat, and so would the staff.
Q. With the victory, this makes you the first Penske driver to win at Kansas. Does that mean something for you and the team?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Definitely. Any time you can go where Penske hasn't been able to win at before, all the races that they've won, you can do something that nobody else has done, you feel pretty darn good about that. It's the same as going on and trying to win the championship. The fact they haven't won an IRL championship, to be able to be the first guy to do that would be great as well.
We just are going to keep going and trying to do the best that we can. I think there's a lot of things we could do yet this season. We need to keep things under control and make sure we focus on the points as well as winning races.
THE MODERATOR: Just to clarify, Penske open-wheel, one of your fendered teammates from the other Penske side has won twice. Ryan Newman won an ARCA race and NASCAR.
Q. Those final laps, when you're neck and neck with Wheldon, your pit crew, were they telling you anything, inspirational words?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We don't have time to with the spotter going, "Outside, outside, outside. Clear by half a car length." Just depends on where they're at.
No. When it gets down to that little bit, it's just me and the other driver. To tell you the truth, I was quite a bit nervous about it considering the fact that I've won most of the times when I've been in those close finishes. The one time I've lost, I was on the inside. All the ones I won I was on the outside, except for Indy this year. That's a little bit different story. Michigan a couple years ago, I lost by about that much. I had a feeling it might turn out to be like Michigan. I just kept digging and trying as hard as I could. It was great to hear them when they said, "Clear."
THE MODERATOR: Can you stress the importance of your spotter. You can't really look in your rearview mirrors. When you're going 200 miles an hour, you can't look to see what's going on around you. Talk about the importance of your spotter.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I mean, an extra set of eyes and ears. Roger does a little bit of spotting from the scoring stand as well as calling the race. We also have my spotter Tom up on top of the roof. He does basically everything for turn one and all the things that Roger can't see.
To have that trust in those guys is pretty -- sometimes it's not easy to do. They'll say "Clear" and you try everything you can do. You're like, "I got to be clear, I got to be clear." You look back, somebody's still there. "Man, I didn't think I was clear there, they called clear, it was close." You really got to make sure you got somebody that you can trust up there. I do the best that I can driving the car. Each part of it is a team effort. It's very important to have another set of eyes and ears. Not even just the guys you're running around, but if there's a piece of debris on the track, somebody spins 200 feet ahead of you, sometimes you're not going to see it. At the close-in rate, two seconds, you're there, if it's a couple hundred feet ahead of you. We have to make sure we always keep those guys on their toes as well.
THE MODERATOR: Questions from the press box.
Q. (No microphone.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, it's already been special. I won Indy. That makes the whole year special. I don't care what else I do this year. That was the main thing. Now all the other things are things that -- that was the thing for me, these are the things we're trying to do for everybody else, for the team right now, keep winning for the guys.
I love to win as much as the next guy, but that was the crowning achievement in my career. I don't know if anything will ever match up to that. I'm sure having a lot of fun with winning races since then.
Q. Since it's your birthday, did you dedicate this one to yourself?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know yet. I think I probably should dedicate it to all the men and women that are serving for our armed forces throughout the world right now, making it so we can come out here and do something that basically doesn't really mean a lot. It means a bunch to us, but in the grand scheme of things, what they're doing is much bigger. I think that's who it should be dedicated to.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Sam.
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