Hornish Soldiers to a 13th-Place Finish at Fontana

March 25, 2012

Fontana, Calif. (March 24, 2012) - Sam Hornish, Jr. driver of the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge Challenger in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS), finished 13th in Saturday afternoon’s Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

Hornish started the 150-lap event from the 11th position on the grid based on his time from Saturday morning’s qualifying session when he lapped the two-mile track in 41.097 seconds at an average speed of 173.550 miles per hour. 

The No. 12 Dodge Challenger started strong as Hornish was able to make up several positions in the first few laps of the race, running as high as fifth in the early portion. The initial 56 laps of the event ran without incident and over the course of the long green flag run, Hornish reported that the car was lacking overall grip while being loose on corner entry and tight on corner exit.

 While running in the eighth position crew chief Chad Walter called Hornish in for a green flag pit-stop on lap 32; during which the Alliance Truck Parts team made an air pressure adjustment, changed four tires and filled the car with fuel. Once the field cycled through the green flag pit-stops the Penske Dodge was scored in the sixth position. 

Over the course of the next 25 laps Hornish ran consistently in the top-six, although he did have a minor brush with the outside wall the car’s handling was not adversely affected.

Debris on the racing surface brought out the first caution flag of the day on Lap 57 at which point Hornish informed Walter that his Challenger was too loose on corner entry and would transition towards being too tight on corner exit over the duration of a long run. On Lap 59 Hornish brought the Alliance Truck Parts car into the pit lane for service. Once again the crew gave Hornish four new tires, an air pressure adjustment and fuel; this stop took a few seconds longer than normal as the pit crew struggled getting the right-side tires off due to light damage to the wheel wells that was a result of the earlier brush with the wall. 

Racing resumed on Lap 62 with the No. 12 Dodge scored in the 11th position. As the race wore on Hornish reported – with urgency in his voice – that the car was not turning well on corner exit and shortly thereafter he had another brush with the wall. Despite having to fight his car around the high-speed oval, Hornish was running in the top-11 until he spun on Lap 91 bringing out a caution flag. As a result of this spin crew chief Chad Walter called Hornish into the pit lane while the pits were closed thinking that the spin may have caused the Dodge to have flat tires. 

When the pits opened on Lap 93 Hornish once again brought the car to the attention of the Penske pit crew. This time they made a track bar adjustment, an air pressure adjustment, changed four tires and filled the car with fuel. Since Hornish drove through a closed pit lane he had to start at the back of the lead lap cars, with this in mind Walter called him back in the pits with one-to-go before the green flag to top off the fuel tank. 

The action picked up with the green flag on Lap 97 with Hornish shown in 16th but it didn’t last long as the caution was displayed for debris on Lap 103. During this caution the No. 12 Dodge came into the pits for fuel only as they had only one set of fresh tires remaining for the latter part of the race. The No. 12 Dodge gained a few positions using this strategy and when the green flag signaled a return to racing on Lap 108 with Hornish scored in the 11th position. 

The race stayed green for 25 laps during which time Hornish dropped back as far as 16th, due to other competitors having fresher tires, before clawing his way back to the 11th position. The Penske Dodge looked to be coming into to its own over the long run late in the race before a Lap 133 caution period. This was an unwelcome sight for the Dodge driver who was making his way back through the field. On Lap 135 the Alliance Truck Parts machine came into the pits for the last stop of the day. Crew chief Chad Walter made the decision to take outside right tires only and as a result the No. 12 Dodge gained seven positions in the running order, being scored in fourth when the green flag restarted the race on Lap 138. 

While the two tire change gave the team valuable track position, it did not optimize the Challenger’s handling over the waning laps of the race and Hornish faded back to finish the event in the 13th position.

"We almost pulled one off today in the Alliance Truck Parts Dodge,” said Hornish. “We got track position late and just couldn't take advantage of it on the restart. We opted for two tires versus four late coming down pit road.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. We lost the balance of the car a bit after we made a slight air pressure adjustment and never really got the total balance back."

With today’s result Sam Hornish. Jr. and the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge Challenger moves up to fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide point standings.

Penske Racing teammate, Brad Keselowski, finished third in the No. 22 America’s Tire Dodge.

The next NASCAR Nationwide Series event is at Texas Motor Speedway. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 will air at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and it will be broadcast live on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 90.