AVONDALE, Ariz. (November 9, 2008) – Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished 33rd at Phoenix International Raceway in the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. An early race incident set the tone for the afternoon as Hornish battled an ill-handling race car for much of the race. Involvement in a second incident relegated the No. 77 team to a 33rd place finish, five laps off the lead lap.
Hornish still holds a slight lead in the 2008 Rookie of the Year contest, setting the stage for a dramatic finish to the season next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Once racing action began on Sunday, it did not take long for Hornish to update the No. 77 team on the handling of the Mobil 1 Dodge. On lap 12, he radioed the crew that the car was loose-handling getting into the corners on both ends of the race track and tight-handling in the center of turns three and four.
The first caution of the afternoon came out on lap 21 when Hornish was involved in a two-car spin in turn three. Hornish headed to pit road on lap 23, while running in the 42nd position, for service on the Mobil 1 Dodge. As he approached his pit stall, Hornish was spun by the No. 9 car while trying to enter his pit box. Facing the wrong direction, he was forced to wait for pit road traffic to pass before he could turn around. Crew chief Travis Geisler instructed Hornish back on track in order to avoid losing a lap. He came back down pit road on lap 25 for four tires, fuel, air pressure and track bar adjustments. He restarted the race in 42nd place, remaining on the lead lap.
When the caution came out again on lap 32, the Mobil 1 team opted not to come to pit road in order to gain track position. Hornish restarted the race on lap 37 in 32nd place. However, the caution was displayed on the restart for a rare rain shower in the Arizona desert. After a red-flag period for just over 23 minutes, Hornish and team opted not to pit once again and restarted the race on lap 48 in the 29th position.
By lap 60, Hornish reported that he was struggling with the Mobil 1 Dodge’s handling when entering the corners and had dropped to 38th place. He fell one lap down to the leaders on lap 89.
Green-flag pit stops began near lap 100, with Hornish coming to pit road on lap 102 for much-needed adjustments on the No. 77 Dodge. The Mobil 1 crew quickly performed a pit stop for four fresh tires, a tank of fuel, right-side track bar and left-rear wedge adjustments. When pit stops cycled through, Hornish was posted in the 33rd position, still running one lap down to the leaders.
Hornish came to pit road under caution on lap 144 for four tires, fuel, air pressure, track bar and wedge adjustments, restarting the race on lap 149 in the 32nd position. He was posted in 32nd place running one lap down to Jimmie Johnson at the mid-point of the 313-lap.
On lap 191, Hornish radioed that it seemed something had happened to the Mobil 1 Dodge. He relayed that the car was now twice as loose-handling as before. He was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop under green flag conditions on lap 194 for four tires, fuel, track bar and wedge adjustments. He rejoined the race on 40th place, three laps down to the leaders.
The Mobil 1 team used the subsequent pit stops to make further adjustments to the No. 77 Dodge. As the race began to wind down, Hornish had a minor involvement in a dramatic multi-car accident that brought out red flag conditions once again, this time for almost 18 minutes. Sustaining minor damage in the melee, Hornish came to pit road once the yellow flag was displayed for four tires, fuel and repairs before racing action resumed.
Hornish continued on track for the remainder of the race and as the checkered flag waved, he crossed the start/finish line in the 33rd position, five laps down to race winner Jimmie Johnson.
The No. 77 team remains 37th in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings, 101 points outside of the top-35.
“Today was definitely a challenge,” said Hornish after the race. “We just couldn’t get a handle on the Mobil 1 Dodge and seemed to have bad luck out there after getting involved in two incidents. The guys did a really good job in the pits today and I’m proud of this team. We head into the final race of the season in a really close battle for Rookie of the Year honors. We’re going to put this week behind us and focus on achieving that goal in Homestead next Sunday”
Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman finished in second and 34th place, respectively.
Hornish and the No. 77 team head into the final race of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Ford 400 will be televised live on the ABC television network on Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m. EST. Coverage will also be broadcast on MRN Radio beginning at 3 p.m. EST.