- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS — This was exactly what Michael and Marco Andretti had talked about: down to the end of the Indy 500, father and son running 1-2.

“A fairy tale,” they called it, and they were sure it was coming true yesterday. Sam Hornish Jr. thought so, too.

Then, with one dazzling last-second move, Hornish whipped around the 19-year-old rookie on the final straightaway and won the second-closest Indy ever by .0635 seconds, a little more than a car length.

Michael Andretti, who came out of retirement at age 43 to race with his son for another try at racing’s biggest prize, was third, 1.0087 seconds back.

A happy ending at last for Hornish, who has had his own run of bad luck here, but just another chapter in the Andretti family’s hard-luck drama that dates nearly four decades.

“Second place is nothing,” Marco said. “They don’t remember people who finish second here. They really don’t. You gotta take advantage of every shot. How many times did my dad finish second? He never won it and neither did I.”

Hornish overcame a disastrous mistake to finally win Indy in his seventh try: Late in the race, he left his pit with the fuel hose still connected, and the ensuing penalty put him down a lap. But his team stayed cool, and Hornish found himself trailing only the Andrettis and Scott Dixon when the green flew with four laps to go.

The newest Andretti at the Brickyard had brought the crowd to its feet by passing his father for the lead with three laps to go. Hornish followed and took aim at the kid, second-youngest ever to drive at Indy.

Hornish tried to dive inside on the third turn of the next-to-last lap and the two almost collided, forcing Hornish to fall several car lengths back.

He figured that was his last chance.

“Thank goodness,” he said, “it’s 500 instead of 497.”

Marco thought so, too.

“I thought I had won it,” he admitted.

But Hornish, who failed to finish his six previous Indys, mounted one final charge.

He caught up on the final lap, and Andretti, in only his fourth IRL IndyCar Series start, couldn’t hold on.

“I think I could have moved to the inside, but at that time he would have already made his move and it would have been a big one,” Andretti said. “I wouldn’t have done anything different except for coming off the last corner. … He just had that speed and I don’t know where it came from.”

Hornish swung low, pulled alongside and nosed ahead at the checkered flag. In 90 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, the only closer finish was in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds.

Hornish’s mistake in the pits might have cost him a shot at the victory if his team had panicked — but Hornish drives for Marlboro Team Penske, the most successful in the sport’s history.

“I said ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and the fuel probe wasn’t completely out,” said Roger Penske, who now owns 14 Indy victories, nine more than anyone else. “That was my mistake. But instead of everybody falling over and folding their tent, we said, ‘What can we do now?’”

What they did was use the penalty — a green-flag drive through the pits on lap 163 — to add a few gallons of fuel for an all-out run to the finish.

Asked what he was thinking when he saw the hose tearing off, Hornish said: “Probably the first thing that came to my head is, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ The second thing that came to my head is, ‘The last two years I put the car into the wall, so I better shut up and not say anything.’”

After he won, a choked-up Hornish lay on the track and kissed the yard of bricks at the finish line.

“I keep getting emotional about it,” Hornish said. “I got to try to figure out how to get through all this stuff without starting to cry and not be able to talk. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully appreciate what it means or be able to put into words what it means to me.”


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