HAMPTON, Ga. — Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Sam Hornish Jr. started 15th and finished 11th in tonight’s ADVOCARE 500 here at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hornish ran as high as fifth in the running order, but had to settle for the spot just outside the top 10 after getting caught up in a late-race incident.
“Too bad that we got caught up in that wreck,” Hornish said of the incident that occurred on Lap 270 of the scheduled 325 laps. “We had a good car from the start of the race and had to fight through some adversity late in the race. We had good pit strategy and rebounded from the tough deal with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and 39 (Ryan Newman). We had a car that we could run about anywhere on the track and that was huge for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge here tonight.”
Hornish started 15th in today’s battle, based on his Friday qualifying effort of 30.031 seconds (184.609 mph). He had climbed to 10th on Lap 12 and remained a fixture among the top 10 for the majority of the race.
With the extremely worn surface here on the 1.54-mile quad-oval, tire management was the crucial factor in getting to the front. Hornish, coached by team owner Roger Penske, crew chief Todd Gordon and spotter Chris Osborne, showed his keen ability to save his tires throughout a run.
Hornish had climbed to ninth when Aric Almirola’s blown engine brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 39. A 12.1-second pit stop had the “Double-Deuce” up to eighth for the Lap 43 restart.
The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge was up to seventh on Lap 47 and Hornish cleared Greg Biffle for sixth on Lap 64. Working to keep their car rotating on the bottom, Hornish was running “just a little on the free side” when he hit pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 83. The call was for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to the right-rear. The 14.1-second visit to pit road had Hornish running 10th when the stops cycled around on Lap 86.
Hornish was running ninth on Lap 121, when green-flag stops were the order once again. A 13.3-second stop for four tires, fuel and another air pressure adjustment saw him running 11th when the stops cycled around on Lap 125.
A debris caution on Lap 130 bunched the field up and allowed the teams to finally hit pit road under the yellow. Hornish hit pit road for four tires, fuel and track bar/air pressure adjustments (12.85 seconds). He lined up 11th for the Lap 135 restart.
Hornish used the inside line to advance up to seventh on Lap 136. He cleared Jimmie Johnson for sixth on Lap 148 and scampered by Matt Kenseth for fifth on Lap 153. Teammate Brad Keselowski got around Hornish for the fifth spot on Lap 171, just before another round of green-flag stops began.
The call was for four tires, fuel and another air pressure adjustment on the Lap 172 pit road visit. After the 13.50-second stop, Hornish was running eighth when the stops cycled around on Lap 180.
At Lap 200, Hornish was back up to seventh, running 20.683 seconds behind leader Kevin Harvick. The No. 22 Dodge was on the move again, as Hornish cleared Carl Edwards for sixth on Lap 207 before hitting pit road again for a scheduled stop on Lap 216. The 12.75-second stop for four tires, fuel and another track bar adjustment saw Hornish back in 13th with 100 laps remaining.
Hornish reported a vibration, but was back up to 10th on Lap 234. When Juan Pablo Montoya brushed the wall on Lap 242, the third yellow flag of the race was displayed. It allowed all of the leaders to get back on the same pitting sequence.
The 22 car hit pit road on Lap 243 for four tires, fuel and no changes. It was deduced that the vibration Hornish had felt was due to one of the Goodyears being out of balance.
Hornish lined up ninth for the restart on Lap 248, but had fallen to 11th when Jeff Gordon got around him on Lap 253. He had cleared Edwards for 10th on Lap 254, just before the No. 99 Ford’s engine went up in smoke on Lap 264.
A pit road trip under the yellow on Lap 266 saw Hornish’s team go with four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to the right-front. He lined up 10th for the Lap 270 restart with 16 cars running on the lead lap.
Things got wild as the field blasted off Turn 2 and down the backstretch. With the 39 car (Newman, running a lap down) charging up on the outside of Hornish, the 48 car (Johnson) must not have known that Hornish had the car on his outside. Johnson shot across the front of Hornish’s Dodge and veered straight into the outside wall entering Turn 3. The incident saw Hornish sustain quite a bit of damage to the front end of his car.
The extended yellow allowed the 22 team the opportunity to hit pit road numerous times to make repairs to their Dodge Charger. Hornish was running 14th and as the final car on the lead lap when the race returned to green on Lap 280. He had climbed to 12th on Lap 321, when Jamie McMurray crashed coming out of Turn 4 to set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Hornish pitted for the final time on Lap 322 for four tires and fuel. When the race returned to green on Lap 325, Hornish was 12th. Even with a battered race car, he was able to climb to 11th as the checkered flag was displayed.
At the finish, it was Denny Hamlin taking the victory by 0.378 seconds over Jeff Gordon. Keselowski brought the Miller Lite Dodge home in third, with Martin Truex Jr. fourth and Harvick fifth. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard, Kenseth and Mark Martin rounded out tonight’s top-10 finishers.
“The big thing was that you had to take car of your right rear at the beginning of the run and our car was so good that we were able to do that,” Hornish offered after the race. “I just tried to be smart about it and run my pace. We actually had a better car after we got caught up with the 48 and 39 but just ran out of time to make up any more ground. (It was) a solid night overall for everyone on the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge team and I just appreciate the opportunity to get to drive this car so much.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads back to Richmond International Raceway for Race No 26 of the 2012 schedule; the final race before the 10-race Chase begins. This weekend’s action at RIR will again feature a two-day format for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors. Action gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 12:10 p.m. till 2:00 p.m. The final practice for the Sprint Cup cars is set from 2:45 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. on Friday (live on ESPN2). Saturday night’s 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday’s 5:35 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying (live on ESPN2). Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (400 laps, 300 miles) Sprint Cup race has a 7:30 p.m. EDT starting time, with ABC-TV and MRN Radio presenting live coverage.