FORT WORTH, Texas – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Sam Hornish Jr. started 17th and finished 17th in today’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornish and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing Team were certainly hoping for more here on this fast and demanding 1.5-mile quad-oval.
“Just a tough night,” Hornish told Dodge SRT’s Scott Sebastian back in the garage area after the checkered flag had fallen. “We didn’t have the consistent race car that we needed. The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger was good at times but we just couldn’t make it consistent like we needed. We never got track position, especially late with all those restarts. On the last restart, I was held down really tight by the 20 and got really loose. When I finally caught the car, I hit the right-front fender and bent that back which took away a lot of speed on the last few laps.”
Hornish started 17th this afternoon by virtue of his qualifying effort here on Friday. He earned that spot by piloting the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge to a lap of 28.628 seconds (188.627 mph).
Hornish’s Dodge was ill-handling from the drop of the green flag. Lacking needed grip and experiencing “tight in the center” issues for the majority of today’s race, the No. 22 Dodge fell to 21st after three laps. Hornish had climbed to 18th after 25 laps, but started sliding back. Thinking he had possible issues with the right-front tire, Hornish hit pit road under the green on Lap 32 for four tires and fuel (and a track bar adjustment in 13.0 seconds).
The No. 22 car fell to 37th in the running order after pitting early, but after the leaders began making green-flag stops, Hornish returned to the lead lap. When the stops cycled around on Lap 51, the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was scored in the 20th position.
Still fighting handling issues, Hornish fell a lap down to leader Jimmie Johnson on Lap 80 before hitting pit road for service again the following lap. During that 14.5-second stop, the team went with four tires, fuel and adjustments. The adjustments included knocking a spring rubber into the left rear and cranking two rounds down on the track bar.
The adjustments provided little relief, but Hornish was running in front of leader Johnson when the green-flag pit stops cycled around on Lap 95. Johnson cleared Hornish to put him a lap down on Lap 99, but a caution for debris flew on the very next circuit. The 22 team caught a break and received the “lucky dog” free pass to return to the lead lap.
During the yellow, Hornish hit pit road for four tires and fuel. The team also went with track bar, wedge and a packer adjustment on the left front. Hornish was 22nd on the Lap 105 restart with 27 cars still on the lead lap.
The second yellow flag of the race flew on Lap 108 when AJ Allmendinger crashed out of Turn 4 onto the infield grass. Hornish hit pit road again under that caution for an air pressure adjustment and to remove the rubber that was placed into the spring.
Such was the case for Hornish and team here today as the plethora of changes and adjustments never brought their Dodge up to par with the leaders.
Hornish was 23rd on the restart after Lap 118, 21st on the Lap 129 restart and up to 18th after a round of green-flag stops cycled around on Lap 172. The team continued to massage on their chassis and bounced from 15th to 18th through the seventh caution of the race on Lap 310.
A 12.4-second four-tire stop (with wedge adjustment) on Lap 312 had Hornish up to 12th for the Lap 316 restart. Caught on the outside lane, he fell to 16th as Kasey Kahne got into the wall to bring out the eighth yellow flag of the race.
The call was to stay out which led to Hornish again 12th on the Lap 327 restart. There were 24 cars that remained in the lead lap. Up front, it was this year’s points players, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski beating and banging for the lead.
Mark Martin spun coming out of Turn 4 to bring out the final caution flag of the race on Lap 329. All of the leaders stayed out and that set up a green-white-checkered finish.
“It’s just too darned tight,” Hornish radioed during the yellow.
The final restart saw Keselowski line up as the leader. Johnson was second, with Kyle Busch third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth. Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10.
Hornish lined up 11th, with Martin Truex Jr. 12th, Ryan Newman 13th, Greg Biffle 14th and Carl Edwards 15th.
The wild last two laps saw much jockeying for position with incredible beating and banging for an intermediate track.
At the finish, it was Johnson taking his 60th career victory, this one by 0.808 seconds over Keselowski. Kyle Busch finished third, with Kenseth fourth and Stewart fifth. Bowyer, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Harvick and Biffle rounded out the top-10 finishers. Logano, Newman, Truex, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, Edwards, Hornish (17th), Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin completed the top 20.
“I took a big chance on the second to last restart and tried to pass on the outside but the car was just too tight,” Hornish said after the race. “Regardless of the fender damage, we needed tires and it just didn’t work out.”
“Just some tough luck late in the race,” crew chief Gordon offered. “We didn’t fire out on any of the restarts and that hurt a bit. It’s been typical of us the last several races where we’re way better on the second-half of the run. We have to figure out how to make short-run speed.”
With two races remaining this season, Johnson holds a seven-point lead over Keselowski in the battle for the Sprint Cup title. The top-five drivers look like this: (1) J. Johnson 2,339;(2) B. Keselowski 2,332;( 3) C. Bowyer 2,303;(4) K. Kahne 2,281;(5) M. Kenseth 2,267.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads back to Phoenix International Raceway for next Sunday’s AdvoCare 500. Friday’s practice from 12:00 noon till 1:25 p.m. kicks off this weekend’s action at PIR. Qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s battle is set for Friday at 4:10 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV) Saturday’s schedule features practice sessions from 9:30 a.m. till 10:25 a.m. and from 12:35 p.m. till 1:25 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV) Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 (500 kilometers/312 miles/312 laps) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. local starting time (Mountain Standard Time) here on this 1.0-mile speed plant known as the Desert Mile. ESPN-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.