HAMPTON, Ga. (October 26, 2008) – Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished 24th in Sunday’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. A lap-three incident put the No. 77 team in an early-race deficit, but Hornish and crew rallied to finish just two laps down to race winner Carl Edwards. After overcoming the early-race obstacle, Hornish secured a respectable finish and was the top-finishing rookie driver for the third race in a row.
Shortly after racing action began, Hornish was involved in an incident with the No. 21 car on the third lap of action. Hornish came directly to pit road for right-side tires and fuel before heading back on track to avoid losing laps in the pits. On lap five, Hornish returned to pit road, this time for left-side tires and a track bar adjustment, as well repairs to the nose and splitter of the Mobil 1 Dodge. Hornish was penalized a lap by NASCAR for “pulling up to pit,” or passing cars on track under caution before making a pit stop in order to gain time on pit road. Held on pit lane for one lap as a result of penalty, the team made repairs to the car and Hornish restarted the race on lap six in 42nd position, one lap down.
On lap 27, Hornish radioed that the Mobil 1 Dodge was loose-handling on entry and exit of the turns while tight-handling in the center. He noted that the loose exit was the biggest problem facing the team.
When the caution flag waved on lap 34, Hornish was posted in 34th place, one lap down to the leaders. He narrowly missed being awarded his lap back under caution as the No. 78 car had just fallen a lap down and was deemed the “lucky dog.” Hornish came to pit road on lap 37 for four fresh tires, fuel, air pressure and wedge adjustments. As the only car running one lap down, the Mobil 1 team took time to make sure that everything was in order on the No. 77 Dodge after the lap-three incident. Hornish restarted the race in 41st place.
The first round of green flag pit stops began on lap 85 with Hornish relaying that the loose-handling condition on exit was still a problem for the Mobil 1 Dodge. He came to pit road on lap 86 for four tires, fuel, air pressure, track bar and wedge adjustments. When pit stops cycled through, he was running in the 37th position, one lap down.
When the caution came out once again on lap 109, Hornish radioed crew chief Travis Geisler that the No. 77 Dodge remained too loose on the exit of the turns. He was posted in 35th place with only 19 cars on the lead lap. As Hornish prepared to come to pit road, Geisler encouraged both his driver and team.|
“Let’s get a good pit stop here and get back some track position on these lap-down cars,” said Geisler. “We know we’re running better than them.”
Hornish came to pit road on lap 112 for four tires, fuel, left-side air pressure and right-side track bar adjustments. He lined up for the restart on lap 114 in 33rd place.
The caution flag was displayed on lap 130 for a single-car spin in turn four. Hornish came to pit road on lap 133 for four tires, fuel, track bar and wedge adjustments. As he pulled out of his pit box, Hornish was “sandwiched” between other cars while trying to exit pit road, sustaining fender damage on both sides of the Mobil 1 Dodge. He came back to the pits on the next lap for repairs and restarted the race on lap 135 in 36th place.
At the mid-point of the 325-lap race, Hornish was posted in 36th place, one lap down to the leaders. He reported the “toe,” or front-end alignment, was knocked in due to the earlier pit road incident and it was affecting his ability to turn the Mobil 1 Dodge in turns three and four.
Hornish came to pit road under green flag conditions on lap 179 while running in 34th place. The Mobil 1 crew quickly changed four tires, added fuel and made track bar and wedge adjustments. When the second round of green flag stops cycled through, Hornish was posted in the 36th position, now two laps down to the leaders.
When the caution flag came out again on lap 207, the team prepared to service the Mobil 1 Dodge and address the “toe-in” condition on the race car. Hornish and Geisler discussed their options and decided to pit for four tires, fuel and adjustments only, acknowledging that fixing the front-end alignment would cost the No. 77 team valuable track position. Hornish restarted the race in 32nd place.
The team continued to adjust the Mobil 1 Dodge during its remaining pit stops. Once again, Hornish found himself in a close race with fellow Rookie of the Year contender Regan Smith for Rookie-of-the-Race honors. Hornish bested Smith with a 24th-place finish. This marked the third consecutive week that Hornish was the top-finishing rookie at race end.
The No. 77 team remains 37th in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings, 130 points outside of the top 35.
“I’m really proud of this Mobil 1 team today,” said Hornish. “I’m not really sure what happened there early in the race, but it’s unfortunate because we had a good race car. We were able to fight back and get a decent finish and we gained more ground in the Rookie of the Year race. We’ll stick with it and move forward next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.”
Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman finished in sixth and 16th place, respectively.
Hornish and the No. 77 team head to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend for the excitement of the Dickies 500. Racing action will be televised live on ABC on Sunday, November 2 at 3 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast on PRN Radio beginning at 3:30 p.m. EDT.