SPARTA, Ky. -- Felipe Giaffone narrowly beat fast-closing Sam Hornish Jr. in the Belterra Casino Indy 300 on Sunday for his first victory in the Indy Racing League.
"The car was really good. Let's go for the next one. The championship is very open," said Giaffone, the ninth winner in 12 IRL races this season.
The 27-year-old Brazilian, whose best previous finish was second at Texas last year and at Nazareth, Pa., in April, led the final 39 laps on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval after the leaders made their final pit stops for fuel.
Hornish dropped to third as the race seemed to come down to a battle between Giaffone and Buddy Lazier, the two-time defending race winner. But Hornish passed Lazier for second place with four laps to go and pulled within 0.041 second of Giaffone going into the final lap.
Giaffone was able to pull around slower traffic and beat Hornish to the checkered flag by 0.0932 second.
Lazier was third, followed by Scott Sharp, Helio Castroneves and Al Unser Jr., who missed the past two races while undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse.
Sarah Fisher, the first woman to start from the pole in a major racing series, led the first 26 laps and finished eighth.
Fisher appeared dominant at the start and began pulling away from the field before a crash by Richie Hearn brought out the first yellow.
All the leaders then made pit stops, with Billy Boat coming out first for the lead. Fisher, whose crew made a chassis adjustment as well as a tire change, fell to 11th before the green came out again.
Hearn, meanwhile, was taken to the infield hospital with a broken right foot, and Gil de Ferran - who came into the race as the series points leader - lost precious time in the pits for repairs after his car made contact with Hearn's car.
De Ferran finished 21st, 28 laps behind Giaffone, and fell to third in the IRL standings behind Hornish and Helio Castroneves. With Giaffone next, the top four are separated by just 17 points with three races left this season.
Hornish, 22, won the IRL championship last year, becoming the youngest winner of a major open-wheel racing series.
Giaffone, who started third in Sunday's 25-car field, took the lead on the 60th lap while the rest of the leaders came in for pit stops at the second yellow, to clear debris from the track. The same strategy put rookie Will Langhorne briefly in the lead at the midway point of the race, but he was immediately passed by a line of cars on the restart and wound up a distant 18th.
Fisher, turning laps at more than 220 mph, began closing on the leaders and moved into second with a pass of Hornish on the 145th of the 200 laps. Hornish went around her on the next lap, however, and passed Giaffone a few laps later.
Giaffone regained the lead on lap 162 and stayed in front the rest of the way, averaging 149.024 mph for the 300-mile race.