How Sam Hornish Jr. Played a Role in 2 of Helio Castroneves’ Indy 500 Victories

No. This is not one of those sour-grapes stories. Far from it.

Sam Hornish Jr. couldn’t have been happier when his good friend and former Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves won a fourth Indianapolis 500 on May 30, tying A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears for the most wins in The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

But Hornish, who has a great sense of humor, couldn’t help but note how he played a role in each of Castroneves’ first two Indy 500 wins in 2001 and 2002.

Well, kind of.

Hornish spun early in the 2001 500. While his car didn’t hit anything (although Al Unser Jr. hit the wall trying to avoid Hornish), Hornish had to come to the pits twice: first to change his flat-spotted tires after the spin, and again one lap after leaving the pits because he wasn’t fully buckled in, dropping him several laps down.

“I made a mistake and spun, didn’t hit anything, but I passed Helio twice to unlap myself,” said Hornish, who finished 14th.

He then added with a laugh, “You know what, it’s probably my fault that Helio won his first one (Indy 500).”

Then there was Hornish’s—uh-hem—contribution to Castroneves’ second Indy 500 win the following year.

“(Tomas) Scheckter is leading by about eight seconds over me and I’m second, and I’m like 15 seconds ahead of third,” Hornish said. “I’m trying to catch Scheckter on like Lap 99 and I scraped the wall coming off Turn 4, enough to bend the lower A arm on the car.

“I had to pit and lose four laps, and later in the race, Scheckter wrecks.”

Then, Hornish, who finished 25th, added with another laugh, “I’m like, so it’s probably my fault Helio won his second 500, too.”

Hornish, who won the Indy 500 in 2006, then came up with the best line of all, again adding with a good-natured laugh:

“If I would have been smarter and more mature, maybe I have three (Indy 500s) and Helio has two. But none of that happened.”

But turning serious and with all due respect, Hornish couldn’t be happier at what his long-time friend achieved on May 30.

“He’s a four-time winner (Castroneves’ third Indy 500 win came in 2009) and I’m happy he achieved it because he put a lot of effort into it,” Hornish said. “I thought the storyline was as good as you could get.

“If Helio is going to win one to go to four and match those guys, why wouldn’t it be the fastest 500 in history and why did things happen the way they happened? Good for him. He was smart about it.”

Yet, now that Castroneves has joined the exclusive four-timers club, Hornish is a bit reserved when asked about seeing someone ultimately breaking that mark.

“Do I want to see a five-time winner? That’s hard for me to swallow,” Hornish said. “It’s not because it’s Helio. But do I want to see someone eclipse Al Sr., A.J. and Rick (and now Helio)? Not really, but I know people get excited when somebody matches history or beats it.

“Do I want to see a five-time winner? That’s hard for me to swallow.”

“I grew up idolizing the Indy 500. It’s the pinnacle. The Daytona 500 is great, the Southern 500 is, but there’s just something about the Indy 500 being close to me, only three hours away (from his Ohio hometown), and that’s what I looked at.

“I’m one of the lucky people who was a huge fan of the Indy 500 who not only got the opportunity to race in it, but also to win it.”

And in a funny kind of way, played a unique part—again, kind of—in Castroneves’ first two wins at Indianapolis.

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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