MARTINSVILLE, Va. (October 19, 2008) – Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished Sunday’s TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway in the 34th position, 31 laps down to race winner Jimmie Johnson, after a blown right-front tire sent the Mobil 1 team to the garage for repairs. Despite the incident, Hornish received “Rookie of the Race” honors for the second week in a row as the top-finishing rookie racer.
After a successful debut in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, Hornish was set for 500 laps of Cup racing at the .526-mile oval in the hills of Virginia. Shortly after racing action began, Hornish noted the Mobil 1 machine was tight in the center and the exit of the turns. By lap 20, he radioed that the No. 77 was too tight-handling overall.
The first of 12 race cautions came out on lap 28 with Hornish running in the 28th position. He relayed to crew chief Travis Geisler that the car was still too tight in the center of the turns when trying to get back on the throttle. Hoping to gain track position, Geisler instructed his driver not to pit.
“I think we should stay out here,” said Geisler. “We may have to give up a few spots once we get started, but we don’t want to be back in the pack and fall a lap down this early in the race.”
Hornish restarted the race on lap 34 in 15th place, gaining a total of 13 positions. Some 20 laps later, he radioed that the Mobil 1 Dodge was now loose-handling on entry and exit, while tight-handling in the center of the turns. When the caution flag waved once again on lap 50, Hornish was running in 26th position.
Hornish made his first pit stop of the race on lap 63 for four fresh tires, fuel, track bar and wedge adjustments. With many competitors opting not to make pit stops, Hornish lined up to restart the race on lap 67 in the 35th position.
When the caution flag waved again on lap 81, Hornish gave his crew an update on the balance of the Mobil 1 Dodge.
“The car is way too tight in the center of the turns,” radioed Hornish. “As soon as I touch the throttle, the car doesn’t even think about turning anymore.”
Despite the feedback, both driver and team agreed that it would be most advantageous for Hornish to remain on track in an effort to gain valuable position. He restarted the race on lap 88 in 27th place.
The next pit stop for Hornish and the Mobil 1 team came under caution at lap 116 with the No. 77 again running in 27th place. Hornish came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a substantial right-side track bar adjustment. Shortly after the restart, he told his crew that the Mobil 1 Dodge remained too tight-handling overall.
“We’ll keep working on it,” said Geisler. “Just hang in there. We’ve got a lot of racing left to do today.”
On lap 161, Hornish was involved in a three-car incident with the No. 18 and No. 70 entries as all three cars blew tires in turn two. With a flat right-front tire, Hornish came to pit road on lap 162 for right-side tires and fuel. The team also checked the No. 77 Dodge for damage. In an effort not to lose unnecessary laps, Hornish made a series of pit stops under caution for left-side tires, adjustments and repairs. As racing action resumed, Hornish restarted the race on lap 169 in 37th place, two laps down to the leader, but he relayed that there was still a problem with the race car.
The Mobil1 team quickly prepared to make repairs to the car and Geisler directed Hornish to bring the No. 77 Dodge to the garage on lap 176. The crew went to work on the Mobil 1 machine and Hornish returned to the race under caution in 40th place, 25 laps down to the leaders.
At the mid-point of the 504-lap race, Hornish was posted in 39th place, 25 laps down to then-leader Jeff Gordon. Hornish noted that the handling on the Mobil 1 Dodge was better but still tight in the center of the turns.
The No. 77 team used its remaining pit stops to fine tune the Mobil 1 Dodge and despite the early difficulties, Hornish remained on track for the duration of the race, which ended in a green/white/checkered flag finish. Hornish finished the race in 34th place, 31 laps down to the leaders.
The No. 77 team remains 37th in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings, 140 points outside of the top 35.
“It was a disappointing day for the Mobil 1 Dodge,” said Hornish. “We should’ve probably finished the race two laps down. Unfortunately, we popped a tire and had to come to the garage for repairs. This Mobil 1 team worked really hard to get us back on track. We finished better than we did here last time but we’re obviously not where we want to be. We’re heading to tracks where we tend to run strong and we are looking ahead to Atlanta, Texas and Homestead.”
Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman finished in 23rd and 36th place, respectively.
Hornish and the No. 77 team head to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend for the excitement of the Pep Boys Auto 500. Racing action will be televised live on ABC on Sunday, October 26 at 1 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast on PRN Radio beginning at 2 p.m. EDT.