Hornish Finishes 11th Saturday Night at Richmond

September 9, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. (September 9, 2012) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Sam Hornish Jr. had another solid performance in Saturday’s (ended early Sunday morning) Federated Auto Parts 400 here at Richmond International Raceway.  After starting 11th and running as high as sixth in tonight’s rain-interrupted battle, Hornish crossed the finish line in 11th when the race finally concluded.

Hornish started the race from the 11th position, the spot he earned by touring the .750-mile RIR oval in 21.359 seconds (126.410 mph) in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session.  A strong weather band moved through the area during the late afternoon and forced officials to undergo a track-drying process that delayed the start of the 400-lap grind.  The engines were not fired until 9:22 p.m. and the cars didn’t roll off pit road until 9:27 p.m.  NASCAR officials displayed the green and the yellow flags simultaneously to officially start the race at 9:30 p.m.

The 43-car field did not go to full green-flag conditions until Lap 6.  Hornish had the fastest lap times of all the cars on three different laps and was up to eighth when a competition yellow came out on Lap 46.

Hornish hit pit road on Lap 47 for four tires, fuel and a left-front air pressure adjustment.  The 12.8-second stop had Hornish running ninth for the Lap 50 restart.  Only two laps later, David Ragan crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the second yellow of the race.

Facing the obstacle of losing his heat shields off his driving shoes, Hornish was seventh on the Lap 57 restart and was running sixth on Lap 125.  He was reporting a tight handling condition before green-flag stops began on Lap 130. 

The third yellow flag of the race flew on Lap 137, this one for precipitation.  Hornish hit pit road on Lap 139 for four tires, fuel and a left-front air pressure adjustment (13.5 seconds).  He emerged from the pits running in the seventh spot as the rain intensified. 

NASCAR officials had already “doubled them up,” anticipating a restart, when the rain got so heavy they had to bring the cars down pit road and display the red flag with less than 50 laps till half-way (Lap 152 completed).  Drivers were able to get out of their cars and take a breather.

“Well I wish we were another 48 laps into it,” Hornish told Dodge Racing PR’s Jimmy White as the drivers stood around waiting for the rain to stop.  “Hopefully we’ll get out back out there and at least get to halfway. The car is really good. The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge is able to make some passes and move up a little bit and the car is really good right now. I hope we get to keep running it.

“We need to rotate the center a little bit better and we need to be able to keep what we got at the beginning of a run a little bit longer,” Hornish said when asked what he needed in his car to keep advancing toward the front.  “But I feel like we’re good at the beginning, we’re good at the end, it’s that little middle stretch isn’t as good as what we need. The thing we really need to do is make sure that we don’t tune ourselves out and try to make the car turn too much in the center and then not come off the corner.”

The rain finally stopped and the track was dry enough to return to racing just after 11:30 p.m.  The green and yellow were both displayed together again on the field on Lap 153, with the race going back full green on Lap 155.

Hornish had fallen to 10th on Lap 162 when he radioed, “I just can’t control the rear end in the middle of the corner.”  Nonetheless, he had climbed back up to eighth at Lap 200 as the race became official right at midnight. 

Another round of green-flag stops were the order and Hornish hit pit road on Lap 231.  Crew chief Todd Gordon called for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment to fight the ill-handling condition (14.25 seconds).  Only five laps later, the fifth caution flag of the night flew when Clint Bowyer cut down a tire and spun on the frontstretch.

Hornish was 10th on the Lap 240 restart, fell to 12th and climbed back up to 10th when rain drops began falling again on Lap 270.  The drops got heavier and officials displayed the sixth yellow flag of the night on Lap 275 for the rain.  The “Double-Deuce” Dodge hit pit road again on Lap 277 for four tires and air pressure adjustments (13.1 seconds).

The top eight cars opted to stay out as Hornish was among the lead cars with four fresh Goodyears ready for the Lap 283 restart.  But after getting stuck on the slower outside lane in three-wide traffic, Hornish had fallen to 12th on Lap 284.  He had climbed back up to ninth on Lap 290, but when Jeff Gordon got around on Lap 301, he radioed, “It’s too free in and the tires are chattering in the center.”

Hornish was running 12th when he hit pit road for the final time on Lap 336.  The call was for four tires, fuel and reversing the prior tire pressure change (12.6 seconds).  The 22 car fell to 20th as other cars were yet to make their stops. 

As the others made their way to pit road and the stops cycled around, Hornish was back up to 13th on Lap 346 and up to 10th on Lap 354.  He held the 10th position with 10 laps to go, but couldn’t hold off Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle as the laps went by.  When Denny Hamlin finally hit pit road with a handful of laps remaining, Hornish advanced to 11th, the spot he held when the checkered flag finally fell.

In an impressive comeback, Bowyer was able to stretch his fuel for the final 122 laps to take the win here this morning by 1.198 seconds over runner-up Gordon.  Gordon’s charge from back in the field during the early portion of the race was good enough to gain him the final spot in this year’s Chase (by three points over Kyle Busch).  Mark Martin finished third, with Tony Stewart fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.  Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski (sixth in the Miller Lite Dodge), Ryan Newman, Biffle and Harvick rounded out the top-10 finishers.

Finishing behind Hornish in 11th and completing the top 15 finishers were Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.

“As soon as we got started there after the rain we were a little bit free and then we just way tightened up and couldn’t do what we needed to do,” Hornish offered after climbing from his car back in the garage.  “Just didn’t have the long-run speed that we did early on. It’s unfortunate. We keep coming close to getting a top 10 but 11th and 12th doesn’t get it for us right now. I’m real happy with the job that the guys did. Obviously we want to be better, but didn’t have quite enough today.”

The 12 drivers competing in this year’s Chase include Biffle, Earnhardt, Kenseth, Johnson, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Bowyer, Hamlin, Harvick, Stewart, Kahne and Gordon.

 The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now moves back to intermediate-track racing as the tour heads to Chicagoland Speedway to kick off the 10-race Chase to the 2012 Championship.  This weekend’s action at Chicagoland gets under way on Friday with practice scheduled from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m.   Friday’s final practice session is set from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. (live on ESPN2).  Saturday’s 12:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday’s 43-car starting field (live on SPEED-TV).  Sunday’s Geico 400 (267 laps, 400.5 miles) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. CDT (2:00 p.m. EDT) starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.