Hornish, team turning focus to winning title

Updated: June 27, 2006, 2:26 PM ET
By Rusty Wallace | Special to ESPN.com

Sam Hornish Jr. is on a pretty good roll right now, winning Saturday night at tricky Richmond International Raceway, but there is still plenty of work left to do.

Hornish has admitted he's not great at some of IndyCar's upcoming tracks. His biggest hurdle? Infineon Raceway -- where the Nextel Cup Series raced this past weekend -- on Aug. 27 in the second-to-last race of the season.

Road courses have given him trouble in the past, and Hornish said that's one bullet he has to escape.

Hornish can avoid that bullet, but he has to keep doing what he's doing, which is running fast and not making mistakes. I looked back at his spin in practice for the Indy 500, and that was a big mistake. But he seems to be aware he was pushing too hard there and to have corrected it.

His team right now is really focused on winning a championship. The team achieved Hornish's lifetime goal to win the Indy 500, so now it's fully focused on winning the title.

He has to keep the mojo going with his team to get there. Communication will be key, as will staying in rhythm and letting the engineers know what he feels in the car and what he thinks he needs. Most of all, though, he needs to avoid a crash. That can change everything in a heartbeat.

And although things are jibing Hornish's way, it was a different story Saturday night for Tony Kanaan. He probably had one of the best cars in Richmond, then his transmission failed. That killed him, and it was unfortunate because Kanaan looked like Andretti Green Racing's best chance so far this season to get back on top. He was flying before the car failed, but those things happen.

Kanaan teammate Dario Franchitti looked as if he was going to give Hornish a run near the end, but then everybody's tires -- except Hornish's -- started going away with about 35 laps to go, so Hornish just ran off with it.

Andretti Green missed an opportunity, but the question for Rahal Letterman Racing is whether it will even get an opportunity.

The team still could win a race, but at the rate it is sorting out its chassis woes, a win won't come until the end of the season.

The team is going to have to get in a hurry to sort out the chassis with only three races on the schedule after July 30. Richmond was RLR's second race with the Dallara chassis after starting the season with Panoz, and it hasn't gotten it figured out yet.

Rahal Letterman probably should have stayed with the Panoz because now the switch is just killing its season. Buddy Rice is fast and is the team's lead driver, with Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons behind him, but the teams aren't allowed to go test very much and RLR really needs to test to work this chassis out.

The team still could pull one out of the hat late in the year, but at this point, it could be better off looking toward the 2007 season.

Richmond did offer our television audience some great insight into what drivers face.

Marco Andretti discovered one of the characteristic challenges, and that's the way cars at Richmond get real loose off Turn 2 with the banking falling off so fast.

What the viewers saw was Andretti making a great save on what looked like a bobble that could have ended up in the wall. That same thing was happening the entire race to many drivers, but the in-car camera was on Andretti when it popped up for him. The viewers really got to see him meet a challenge there.

As a member of Andretti Green -- and the son of owner Michael Andretti -- Marco hasn't had problems finding sponsorship.

That's not the case for Vitor Meira and Panther Racing.

Can somebody sponsor this guy? He is a very good driver -- finishing outside the top 10 only once all season and sitting fifth in the standings -- and he's a good interview and a fine speaker. The team has a good package on the track.

But one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- challenges in all of racing is to line up sponsorships. Convincing prospective sponsors their money is well-spent backing a race team is the toughest thing many teams face.

For one thing, companies have to market their sponsorship correctly.

The teams that spend big money and market well, such as Home Depot with Tony Stewart and Lowe's with Jimmie Johnson, really reap the rewards.

Miller Brewing knew how to market my team. If someone hooks up with Meira and markets it well, it could pay off for both sides.

Some of this could be taken care of by the news flying around that a merger between the Champ Car World Series and the IRL is on the horizon.

The merger needs to happen because it would end the stigma attached to having two open-wheel series in the United States and the perceived split in talent and resources.

They are quite different from each other, though. The IRL people have a contract with Honda, a contract with Firestone; they are racing with all brand-new equipment, have a TV contract with ABC and ESPN and have the Indianapolis 500.

The IRL still needs to get its car count up. It looks as though more races will be added to the IndyCar schedule next season, so that could be a boost.

The Champ Car Series is doing everything it can to build itself, as well, but it is behind.

Still, people still want to see one series. The IRL is the top series right now.

None of that has a bearing on what we'll see this Sunday, however.

I expect to see fast speeds and a really slick track at Kansas Speedway.

It's a track that fits the IRL well, but it will be slick because temperatures are expected to be high.

The track makes for easy passing, but the Penske and Ganassi teams should be expected to be up front again.

This could be Dan Wheldon's week. He has had bad luck, but his cars have been super fast at tracks like Kansas this season.

If his Target Ganassi team avoids mistakes, Wheldon could easily get into Victory Lane. But you can't in any way discount Hornish or his Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves.

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at www.rustywallace.com.

Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races. You can check out all things Rusty at his constantly updated and upgraded Web site at rustywallace.com.

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