KANSAS CITY, KAN. In eight Indy Racing league starts last year, Sam Hornish Jr. finished running just three times. He made the top 10 twice, his best finish third at Las Vegas.
Obviously, things have changed since then for Hornish, who moved to Panther Racing from PDM Racing after his rookie season.
In the eight starts he's made so far this year, he has won twice and missed the top 5 only once and never against an all-IRL field. The exception was the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 13th against a mixed bag of IRL and CART drivers.
At Kansas Speedway, Buddy Lazier took the lead with less than nine laps remaining but lost it to Cheever with a little more than two laps left.
"If Lazier is going to defend his championship, he's dealing with a Tasmanian devil there," said Cheever, who passed Hornish with less than two laps to go in Sunday's race.
"That guy just doesn't let up, and it's great to see drivers like that coming up through the IRL," Cheever said. "This guy is very good, and he drives for a very good team, very talented. But above all, he drives ethically."
The latest runner-up finish widened Hornish's lead over Lazier to 60 points, going into the Harrah's Indy 200 July 21 at Nashville Superspeedway. He has led 465 laps, tops in the IRL.
"Just to keep finishing ahead of people that are close to me in the points, that's the big thing," he said, "because as long as we do that, we keep stretching out the points lead, and that's what we need to do."
Hornish, who turned 22 on July 2, said he doesn't back off late in a close race just to avoid a crash that would cost him position and points.
"The thing that I've done this year so far is try to go out there and bring the car home, first of all," he said. "If we had a car that was capable of winning, then we went out and won. If not, then we went out and brought the car home."