DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 9, 2008) – Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 12 Penske Truck Rental Dodge in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, earned a season-best 11th place finish in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington Raceway on Friday night. In his first-ever race at the 1.366-mile “Lady in Black,” Hornish Jr. managed a tight race car and ran a smart race to capture his third top-15 finish in just four Nationwide Series starts.
Hornish Jr. started the race in 12th position. Just as racing action was set to begin, spotter Nick DiFazio radioed Hornish Jr. with words of advice: “Race the racetrack and remember to watch what is going on in front of you,” he said. “Let’s stay focused and try to learn something for tomorrow night’s Cup Series race.”
A series of early race cautions prevented Hornish Jr. from getting a good feel for the handling of the Penske Truck Rental Dodge. By lap 20, he reported that race car was tight-handling overall.
“Your lap times are not too bad,” crew chief Matt Gimbel radioed Hornish Jr. on lap 45. “Your times haven’t fallen off like most of the guys in front of you. Let’s keep it up.”
Green flag pit stops began shortly after lap 50, and Hornish Jr. brought the Penske Truck Rental machine to pit road on lap 60 for the team’s first pit stop of the night. The crew changed four tires, added fuel and made air pressure and wedge adjustments. When pit stops cycled through, Hornish Jr. was posted in the 18th position.
As the mid-point of the 149-lap race approached, Hornish Jr. was in jeopardy of going a lap down to then leader and eventual race winner Tony Stewart. Just prior to Stewart overtaking Hornish Jr., a fortunate caution flag waved and the No. 12 remained on the lead lap. Under the caution period, Hornish Jr. came to pit road for four tires, fuel, air pressure and wedge adjustments on lap 75. He restarted the race on lap 79 in 14th place.
“You’re doing a really good job out there tonight,” said Gimbel to his rookie driver, who was still on the lead lap in 14th position. “You’re racing the track and paying attention to what’s going on out there. You’ve missed some big wrecks and are holding your own.”
Within the final 45 laps, the race complexion changed as there were four caution periods and two red flag periods. One of the race restarts, on lap 144, saw Hornish Jr. collected in a multi-car incident on the front stretch sustaining major hood damage to the Penske Truck Rental Dodge. When pit road opened, Hornish Jr. came to pit road for four tires and repairs.
Despite the incident, Hornish Jr. was able to finish the race on the lead lap in 11th place, his best Nationwide Series finish to date.
“Tonight was a great learning experience for me,” said Hornish Jr. “Since I had never raced at Darlington before, I had to learn the nuances of the track and which lines worked best for me. Everyone on the team did a great job communicating tonight from the crew chief to the spotter. We worked hard and ran a smart race. I am proud of our efforts tonight.”
Hornish Jr. and the No. 12 Penske Truck Rental Dodge team will head to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in two weeks for the Carquest Auto Parts 300 on May 24, 2008. The race will be televised live on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast live on PRN Radio at 7:30 p.m. EDT.