Hornish logs fastest lap in Carb Day practice

Updated: May 30, 2006, 8:14 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Friday's final Indianapolis 500 practice was for making adjustments and getting a sneak peek at cars' performance in warm and humid weather, which appears to be on tap for Sunday.

For Sam Hornish Jr., it was business as usual.

As he's done all month, the Team Penske driver put his car at the top of the speed charts on Miller Lite Carb Day. The pole sitter's Friday speed of 220.698 mph wasn't anything special, but it was one final sign before the checkered flag falls that his Dallara-Honda is ready to race.

"We've been pretty much on course all month long," Hornish said. "If I had my way, we would have run this race on the 14th."

He was perhaps only joking slightly. The heat that figures to settle over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has all 33 teams concerned, as previous practice sessions before today didn't have any such conditions to work through and gather information.

"I don't know if I've ever been out here on an 80 degree day. Our cars are affected so much by the temperature and the wind," Hornish said. "That 10 degrees of temperature is huge in IndyCar because it affects so much the wings and the undertray of the car. The hotter the air is, the less efficient those things are."

Hornish is not without hot-weather experience elsewhere, as he noted that the 2003 California race and last year's Milwaukee race were scorchers in which he won.

Hornish ran 21 laps Friday, about average in a busy hour in which 770 total laps were logged.

"It was a little chaotic out there. Everybody was screwing around, trying to get into traffic," Andretti Green driver Bryan Herta said. "The session didn't have a good flow to it, but I think we got what we needed done."

A familiar celebration

Helio Castroneves got his chance to climb the fence at Indianapolis.

No, he didn't win the 500 for a third time -- though he has an excellent chance Sunday. This was for a win in Friday's annual Pit Stop Challenge.

Castroneves' Team Penske crew impressively captured the title, setting an event record with a 7.736-second pit stop in the semifinals and a final-round record of 8.085 seconds to defeat Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing.

Moments after winning, Castroneves took to the fences in the same trademark celebration he uses after race wins, including the 2001 and 2002 Indy 500s.

"It's big for everyone, and every team out there knows it," Castroneves said. "Hopefully we'll continue in that direction."

Team Penske couldn't complete a 1-2 pit stop finish, as it had on qualifying day. Hornish failed to get out of the quarterfinals, losing to Kanaan by .02 seconds.

It was Penske's ninth win in the competition, tops among all teams. Five teams who have won the Pit Stop Challenge have gone on to win the race, including three Penske teams: Bobby Unser (1981), Danny Sullivan (1985) and Castroneves (2002).

Luring the legends

Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. are returning to Indy after sabbaticals, and both have said they're unsure whether they'll continue to race on the IndyCar circuit this season.

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage has $100,000 for them if they want to at least run again June 10 in the Bombardier Learjet 500k. Gossage, clearly seeking the marketing edge that would come with the Andretti and Unser names at his track, said he will give $50,000 to each driver's team provided they both appear in the night race.

The drivers would also be required to carry a Texas Motor Speedway decal on their car, among their other sponsor logos.

"Michael Jordan unretired, championship boxers do it all the time, so why not Michael and Al Jr. one last time?" Gossage said.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com