Kanaan-Hornish scrum steals spotlight from winner Dixon
The important news from Watkins Glen on Sunday? Scott Dixon won and tightened the championship race, writes John Oreovicz. The headline news? Fight, fight, fight!
This story has been corrected. Read below for details
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Scott Dixon won the IndyCar Series race at Watkins Glen International for the third consecutive year, cutting third-place finisher Dario Franchitti's championship lead to 47 points.
So much for the actual racing news.
The story of the Camping World Watkins Glen Grand Prix that you'll see sensationalized for the next week (if not the next month or more) was the postrace contretemps between second-place finisher Sam Hornish Jr. and fourth-place runner Tony Kanaan.
Hornish, who earned his first-ever trip to the podium for an IndyCar road race, had harsh words for Kanaan after the Brazilian tried to run him into the wall entering the pits after the race in apparent retaliation for a midrace bumping incident in which the Team Penske driver came out better.
Had the two angry drivers been able to discuss the matter between themselves, it probably would have faded quickly. Instead, Hornish's father, Sam Hornish Sr., bumped Kanaan, prompting Kanaan's team owner Michael Andretti to join the fray.
An incredulous Marco Andretti (who finished fifth) tried to pull his father away from the fracas, only to be restrained himself by his mother, (Michael's ex-wife) Sandra. Meanwhile, Dan Wheldon arrived on the scene and finally pulled Kanaan away to calm him down, just before someone -- incorrectly identified as Andretti Green Racing's Indy Pro Series driver, Jaime Camara -- tackled the senior Hornish and a proper scrum broke loose.
Charles Burns, the IndyCar Series' burly security official, certainly had his hands full on an afternoon when the tempers were hotter than the 90-degree ambient temperature.
Hornish finished ahead of Kanaan on the track, so we'll give him the first word.
"I got a run on Tony into Turn 6, but he didn't give me room and ran me up on the curbs," Hornish calmly explained. "I had nowhere to go. Then he runs into me coming into the pits and starts calling me every name under the sun.
"He likes to talk about what a great teammate he is when someone on his team wins, but he can't handle it when he doesn't. It's an unfortunate deal. For a guy that likes to claim he's such a great sport, he's always doing stuff like that. If he wants to get out and talk to me about it afterwards, he can do that. But you don't do it in the car. Someone could have gotten hurt in the pits."
Over to Kanaan.
"He hits me and almost takes me out of the race, and he gets mad," Kanaan fumed. "He drives like a champion all the time, but mistakes happen and people should let us talk about it and not get in the middle. I think he made a mistake today, and I don't know if he was going to apologize because I couldn't hear what he was saying -- we both had our helmets on.
"I don't think he drove like a champion today, and he didn't act like one. And his dad was even worse. That's why dads should be in the grandstands, not in the pits."
All that took place while Dixon was taking the familiar road to Watkins Glen's Victory Lane. After two wins at The Glen that were jumbled affairs affected by the weather, this one was generally straightforward for the New Zealand native once pole man and early leader Helio Castroneves crashed out.
"I could definitely see after the pit stop that Helio was struggling with oversteer, especially in the high-speed stuff," Dixon said. "I was actually trying to set him up on that lap because I noticed the lap before that he was very loose going through Turn 11. In hindsight, if I didn't pass him on the track, I would have tried to save fuel to get him in the pits.
"It's just fantastic," he added. "It was a bit of a rough race, but it seems like we have great luck at Watkins Glen. The guys in the pits were rocking, and we just had to wait for the others [on alternate pit strategies] to cycle through. It's so tough because it's so hard to pass those guys and another caution could have helped them out. You just have to try and wait but not be too cautious."
Target/Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull was proud of 2003 IndyCar Series champion Dixon's winning effort after four second-place finishes so far in 2007.
"Scott knows his way around this place, and based on the history and lore of Watkins Glen, it's a great place to call yourself a winner," Hull said.
The free-for-all after the checkered flag took the shine off what was a career non-oval day for Hornish, who turned in what was by far his most impressive road racing performance of the past three years.
"We've felt for a long time we should have gotten a finish in the top five or top three on a road course but we just didn't get it done," said the 28-year old Ohioan. "So it's nice to get a clean run and finish in the top three."
We have to put on a good show for the fans and respect the fans. It's not good when they see something like that.
Franchitti saw his 65-point championship lead get cut by a quarter to 47 points, but the Scotsman is still in a commanding position with seven races to go. His race was compromised by a pair of slow pit stops.
"The Canadian Club boys kind of dropped the ball a couple of times in the pits," Franchitti said. "We were losing a bit of time in there, and that was the difference between second and third.
"I'm just going to keep fighting. Dixon looks like the strong guy right now, but we just have to keep fighting with whoever is in front and try to get our car back to the winner's circle every time."
Franchitti and his former teammate Wheldon were in agreement that Sunday's postrace activity has no place in any form of racing. Last year, a pair of fistfights in the Champ Car World Series involving Paul Tracy received heavy airplay.
"I just saw somebody go to the ground, and I thought, 'This is not cool,'" Franchitti said. "It's certainly not the way our team races. That crap today, that's not cool. Sometimes tempers flare. But I don't want it to overshadow the great job that Dixon did today."
Added Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series champion: "I know Tony very well; he's a good friend and a very professional individual. But I could see people were trying to push his buttons. People were not being particularly nice to him and not acting professional.
"We have to put on a good show for the fans and respect the fans. It's not good when they see something like that."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
In a July 8 story on ESPN.com, it was reported that Andretti Green Racing's Indy Pro Series driver Jaimie Camara tackled Sam Hornish Sr., in a post-race altercation after the Camping World Watkins Glen Grand Prix. In fact, videotape showed that Camara was not the man who tackled Hornish Sr. The person who did remains unidentified.
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