Panther Racing's Sam Hornish Jr beat Bryan Herta and Scott Dixon to the finish line by less than the length of a nose in what can only be described as a heart-stopping conclusion to Sunday's Delphi Indy 300.

After 199 laps of the 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval, Herta and Hornish Jr entered the final lap side by side, Hornish on his usual high line, the yellow Dallara-Chevrolet inches ahead of the multi-coloured Dallara-Honda.

Half way around the last lap, Herta had fought back and actually drew half a car length ahead of his adversary as the pair powered out of turn four, the shift in air flow at more than 220mph momentarily causing the two cars to interlock. A couple of centimetres either way and wheels would touch and the consequences would be unthinkable, but they judged it just right and the yellow car kept the momentum off turn and towards the flag stand and nearly 70,000 gasping fans.

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But then, yards from the line, here was Scott Dixon's red and white Target G Force-Toyota, darting half a car's width below the white line after gaining a tremendous draft behind the leading pair. With Hornish already pinning Herta to the bottom of the racetrack and Dixon travelling faster than both of them, now all three cars interlocked as they crossed the line, centimetres away from disaster once again. But, once again, they judged it just right.

John Barnes and the rest of the Panther crew celebrated, with perhaps a little tinge of anger at their heroes decision to defect to Penske for next season. After all Gil de Ferran had only finished 12th and Helio Castroneves had suffered a gearbox failure 17 laps from home.

Dixon and the rest of the Target crew also celebrated, as their man had come within 0.0099-seconds of beating Hornish, and exactly one 0.0001 ahead of Herta, whose post race emotions were slightly less jovial after being the meat in a 220mph sandwich at the end.

Herta's Andretti-Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon finished fourth and was the only other driver apart from Hornish who was able to stretch his fuel mileage long enough to allow him to pit under the third and final caution flag of the day on lap 186. Herta and Roger Yasukawa managed to scrape off pit road just as the final caution flag, to retrieve Castroneves' stopped car, flew. This elevated the American duo into the top two positions for the final restart of the day on lap 195 with Hornish and Wheldon third and fourth.

Dixon, and a host of others who pitted under green flag conditions, benefited from IRL series rules that insist the leader must be the first car to take the restart and were able to regain their lost lap, and this rule allowed the top 13 finishers to be covered by just 1.5-seconds at the fall of the chequered flag.

Behind Wheldon, Tomas Scheckter finished fifth after leading a bunch of laps with Tony Kanaan sixth, Alex Barron seventh for Eddie Cheever's Red Bull sponsored outfit, Yasukawa eighth, Tora Takagi ninth and Robbie Buhl tenth.

IRL debutant Ed Carpenter excelled in the PDM Racing Dallara-Chevrolet and ran inside the top ten for most of the day before getting shuffled to the back of the 13-car lead draft in the final five laps to finish 13th.

Pole man Richie Hearn led the opening 30 or so laps with considerable ease aboard the #2 Menard Dallara but no less than two tardy pit stops ruined his day and resulted in a 14th place finish.

Only two cars failed to finish a race dominated by two and three wide racing with Kenny Brack the only visitor to the wall after suffering a failure in the right rear corner of his Team Rahal Dallara-Honda on lap 120.

Castroneves' retirement and eventual 20th place finish means his points lead has been reduced to just 12 over Dixon (439-427) with Kanaan third on 425, de Ferran fourth on 422 and Hornish Jr an even closer fifth on 398 with two races to go.