Hornish fends off Kanaan, Patrick in Texas shootout
Round 2 of Danica vs. Dan didn't materialize, but Danica Patrick earned bragging rights with a career-best third-place finish Saturday night at Texas. While Dan Wheldon crashed out and finished 15th, Sam Hornish Jr. won for a series-leading 19th time.
The Texas Motor Speedway crowd of 86,000 was standing and screaming, hoping to see Patrick earn her first victory in the Bombardier Learjet 550.
Close, but not quite.
Patrick finished a career-best third, a few feet behind Andretti Green teammate Kanaan. Neither of them could catch Hornish.
He won by .0786 of a second, the seventh time a TMS IndyCar Series event was decided by less than a tenth of a second.
"When you lead here, you're probably the slowest of all the cars," Hornish said. "But we were pretty much flawless all night. It feels awesome to win at a place where I have so many good memories of winning races and winning championships."
Hornish became the first three-time winner at TMS. He won twice for Panther Racing, and clinched his first two IndyCar Series titles on the 1.5-mile oval.
But this was his first TMS victory for Penske Racing. He had gone eight consecutive races without a win, dating back to last season.
"We weren't having a bad year," Hornish said. "But we just couldn't get things click to win a race."
Hornish is a quiet guy who doesn't look for attention, so this was a perfect week by his standards.
All the attention went to Patrick and Wheldon, who were portrayed all week as feuding combatants. And Patrick remained the big story when the race ended.
Officially, she won the on-track battle with Wheldon, who finished 15th after crashing when he couldn't avoid a wreck in front of him. But Wheldon ran ahead of Patrick most of the race.
No one will remember that part. People will remember that Patrick challenged the two leaders at the end.
"It definitely feels good," Patrick said. "We're starting to mesh and we're getting better."
Kanaan praised Patrick, and he is ready to shave her head. The AGR guys plan to shave Patrick's long black mane when she wins.
"I thing she did a hell of a job tonight," Kanaan said. "We all know [a Patrick victory] is coming. I can't wait to shave her head."
The AGR drivers had another solid effort, including Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who finished fourth.
But it was a horrible night in the end for Wheldon. He was running with the lead pack all night before a multi-car accident with 31 laps remaining ended his chances. Scott Dixon, Wheldon's Target Ganassi Racing teammate, and Helio Castroneves also were involved in the crash.
The leaders had just cycled the final green-flag pit stops when Dixon and Ed Carpenter bumped wheels on the backstretch. They were trying to avoid the car of A.J. Foyt IV, who had a tire come off in front of them.
Wheldon came up behind them and slammed into the wrecked cars.
"A little bit of bad luck for us," Wheldon said. "There really wasn't anything I could do."
Kanaan fared better, managing to squeeze between a bouncing tire on his left and a wrecked car on his right as he zoomed by.
It led to a fun finish for an event that started by playing up the Patrick-Wheldon rivalry. The Rocky theme played in the pre-race activities. A bell rung and a PA announcer bellowed: "Are you ready to rumble at the Speedway?"
Wheldon and Patrick took different views of the hype. Each of the drivers walked down the frontstretch grandstand as they were introduced.
Wheldon was giving high-fives to the crowd before adding a playful 1-2 punch with his fists. Patrick wouldn't play along, meekly waving to the crowd with a scowl on her face.
Apparently Patrick was done with the angry rivals talk, which she brought on from her post-race confrontation with Wheldon at Milwaukee last week. The problems between them started when Wheldon touched wheels with Patrick as she was passing him.
After the race Saturday, she said she understands the media frenzy caused by her feud with Wheldon.
"It's a good thing for the league," she said. "Really, I like it. And I guess I respond well to it."
Patrick had issues with Wheldon again Saturday night when they were racing close to each other. They raced wheel-to-wheel early in the event, but Patrick was angry with Wheldon's driving style later in the race.
"He was chopping down on me in the corners," she said. "He would be really high in the middle of the corner, then chop down at the end of the corner. It takes the air away from you."
The only real altercation of the race was between Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti. The two drivers were headed down the frontstretch when Andretti turned down and clipped Scheckter's front right wheel on Lap 87.
Scheckter went spinning through the grass with a broken wing and mangled axle. Scheckter was furious. He got out of the car and headed up the track, waiting for Andretti to come around before throwing his gloves at Andretti's car.
That little fit won't come close to equaling the attention Patrick and Wheldon generated this week.
The fans saw a fight all right. Patrick fought with two of the best drivers in the league to try to win.
That beats a little argument any day.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.