By Dave Lewandowski

Sam Hornish?s numbers at Chicagoland Speedway are as glaring as they are impressive.

The two-time defending Delphi Indy 300 winner also was runner-up in his 2001 debut at the high-banked 1.5-mile track, where he clinched the first of his successive IRL IndyCar? Series championships with Panther Racing. He has led 155 of 600 race laps.

Delphi Indy 300 Race Information

A three-peat? Hornish, who is winding down his first season with Marlboro Team Penske, cautions betting against him in the race on Sept. 12.

?I?m excited to go back to Chicago,? said Hornish, who has one victory this season in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. ?I?ve always done pretty well, so hopefully my success at the track will continue this year. It?s a great circuit where we?ve always had close finishes, so I?m sure the fans are in for quite a show.?

Indeed. The past two races have produced two of the closest finishes in Series history.

In 2002, Hornish beat Al Unser Jr. to the checkered flag by 0.0024 of a second (the closest finish in the 100-race history of the IndyCar Series). Last year, Hornish, eventual Series champion Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta dueled to the end. Hornish came out ahead of Dixon by 0.0099 of a second and 0.0100 of a second ahead of Herta in the closest 1-2-3 finish in Series history.

The 2,400-foot long and 55-foot wide frontstraight, along with the 1,700-foot backstraight combine to provide drivers what they like most ? room to race. It?s a chess match at 200-plus mph.

?That?s why you see so many wild finishes,? Rahal Letterman Racing?s Vitor Meira said. ?With that wide racetrack, you get a lot more cars in the middle of the fight for the lead.?

Meira compared the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval to Kansas Speedway, which also opened in 2001 and is virtually identical. On July 4, teammate Buddy Rice edged Meira by 0.0051 seconds -- the second-closest IndyCar Series finish.

?A driver and team will have to play out the race strategy because you want to be in position for the final 20 laps,? Rice said. ?We?ve done that and won races.?

The pole sitter has won two of the three previous events at Chicagoland Speedway. Hornish will start seventh with a qualifying speed of 212.991 mph. His teammate, Helio Castroneves, won the MBNA Pole Award with a seed of 214.759 mph.

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