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Sunday, September 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Motor Sports

Auto racing: Hornish captures pole for Delphi Indy 300

JOLIET, Ill. — Sam Hornish Jr.'s pursuit of a second straight Indy Racing League points title will continue today — this time from the front.

The defending IRL champion qualified for the pole in the Delphi Indy 300 and did it quickly yesterday, setting a Chicagoland Speedway track record of 222.867 mph.

Hornish is third in the championship race — eight points behind leader Helio Castroneves and seven behind Gil de Ferran. Hornish will be on the pole for the first time since the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.

He went on to win that race and has earned two other victories this season for Panther Racing.

The 23-year-old Hornish finished second in this race last year to clinch the championship.

"You can pretty much win from anywhere here. Starting from the back, you can win if your car is good enough," Hornish said of the 1-1/2-mile track.

Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner, will start 21st today. Penske teammate de Ferran will start 11th. Castroneves has 437 points, de Ferran 436 and Hornish 429. After today's race, there is one remaining, at Texas Motor Speedway.

"Our qualifying run was very disappointing, especially since we're battling for the championship," said Castroneves, whose speed was 218.857.

Hornish will start in the top 10 for the 23rd straight time, an IRL record. He also has nine top-five finishes this season.

"We'll just continue to do what we've been doing so far this year and see if it works out for us," he said. "When we start on the pole and the people were are running with for the championship are 11th and 20th or whatever, it helps out quite a bit."

With such a slim margin separating the top three, Hornish knows his best chance of overtaking the Penske teammates is simply to win.

"One time this year I thought about hanging back and making sure I finished the race and got the points," he said. "And about that time I got hit in the sidepod and spun in the wall.

"I go out there and push as hard as I can within the limits of the car. You've always got to push for the win because next week in Texas might not turn out as well as we'd like."

The previous fastest lap at the Chicagoland Speedway was 222.137 turned by Robbie Buhl on the 73rd lap of last year's race.

On the front row today with Hornish will be rookie Buddy Rice, who will be in his fourth IRL race for Red Bull Cheever Racing. When he started second in his initial race on July 28, Rice finished second.

"This is going to be a big draft fest," said Rice, who qualified at 222.434. "Hopefully we can just get up front and stay up front with the lead pack."

Al Unser Jr. will start third, matching his best IRL qualifying performance. He also qualified third in June at Texas Motor Speedway and finished second in the race.

The Delphi 300 is Unser's third race since spending three weeks in a rehabilitation clinic for alcoholism.

"Third was good luck for us in Texas and I know we'll have a great car (today)," Unser said.

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