NAZARETH, Pa. -- Tom Kelley was understandably excited after Scott Sharp won the inaugural IRL race at Nazareth Speedway.
But the victory Sunday in the Firestone Indy 225, was especially gratifying to the car owner because he knew he had beaten the best -- compatriot Roger Penske.
"Roger sets a standard that you just can't keep up with," Kelley said. "He has always been my hero."
Sharp won because polesitter Gil de Ferran ran out of fuel on the final lap. Penske made the decision to attempt to stretch the fuel, a wise one because de Ferran would have finished far worse than third had he pitted.
Penske thought the attempt to save fuel might result in the seventh victory by one of his cars on the track he built in 1987 and operated for more than a decade. He didn't second-guess himself.
"You've got to take that gamble every time," he said.
With 111 victories, including 11 in the Indianapolis 500 and 11 open-wheel championships, Penske has no peers as an owner.
That's why Kelley treasured the moment.
"It's a thrill to be able to compete, nice to be able to beat him once in a while," Kelley said.
Kelley also realizes life in the fast lane with Penske can be expensive. They are associated in an engine program.
"It's like having an 800-pound gorilla for a partner because budgets go out the window when Roger wants to win something," Kelley said.
The enormity of the victory wasn't lost on Sharp, either.
"I don't think it gets any tougher than Roger Penske," he said. "He won the last two CART championships, won the Indianapolis 500."
De Ferran was hoping to give Penske another Nazareth memory. The Brazilian racer won here in 2000 to end the team's two-year victory drought and give the man they call The Captain his 100th.
The strategy was solid, de Ferran said. He said trying to go the last 130 laps on a tank of fuel was not much of a stretch because there were so many caution laps to slow the rate of consumption.
There were 116. Another two or three might have conserved enough fuel for the car to go the final half-mile that would have given de Ferran his first IRL victory. For now, he'll have to settle for having won the last two of Penske's nine CART championships.
"I think it was the right call from many points of view," de Ferran said. "At one point it got pretty dark, so the race could have been rained out at any moment."
Sharp got his seventh career victory and became the first IRL driver to win at least once in six straight seasons.
Sharp, who made his final pit stop on lap 127, won despite being sent to the end of the field earlier for grazing the right foot of Helio Castroneves' crew chief and tire changer Rick Rinaman. Felipe Giaffone also passed de Ferran, and wound up nearly a half-second behind Sharp to match the best finish of his career.
IRL champion Sam Hornish, who started eighth, took himself out of contention early when he got between Buddy Lazier and the wall as they went four wide attempting to pass lapped cars on the narrow backstretch.
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