JOLIET, Ill. – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Sam Hornish Jr. overcame an early speeding penalty that put him a lap down in today’s GEICO 400 here at Chicagoland Speedway to finish 11th. It marked his third consecutive 11th-place finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
“Another solid day for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge,” Hornish said after the race. “We had a fast race car all day. I messed up coming to pit road early in the race and got caught speeding which set us back a bit. We hung in there and battled. We caught a break when the caution came out and we hadn’t pitted yet. We gained a bunch of spots back and got on the lead lap. I thought before the race that we had a top-five car and race day was no different. We just got too tight on our last run when we opted to put on two tires. I’d like to get top 10s and we’re stuck a bit around that 10-11-12 spot. A good day for us, though.”
Hornish started today’s race from the 16th spot, which he earned in Saturday’s qualifying session where he turned in a lap of 29.793 seconds (181.251 mph). He was up to 13th on the second lap and climbed to 11th on Lap 6.
Fighting a tight handling condition, Hornish was still running 11th when the first round of green-flag pit stops started on Lap 37.
Crew chief Todd Gordon called Hornish down pit road on Lap 40 for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment (13.4 seconds). However, the 22 car got tagged with a speeding penalty on exiting the pits after the stop.
The “pass-through” penalty saw Hornish running 33rd and a lap down to the leaders when the stops finally cycled around on Lap 49. A caution flag on Lap 65 (for debris) bunched the field up for a Lap 71 restart. Hornish pitted under the yellow for four tires, fuel, air pressure changes and a track bar adjustment and was running 32nd and a lap down.
Great patient driving by Hornish (and coaching by spotter Chris Osborne and team owner Roger Penske) saw the 22 car pass four cars and grab the “Lucky Dog” free pass back onto the lead lap after 101 circuits. The second yellow flag of the race flew for debris and Hornish was 27th and on the lead lap when the race returned to green on Lap 105.
Hornish was very impressive in his steady move back to the front. He had advanced six positions on Lap 117 and cracked the top 20 on Lap 129. He had climbed all the way back up to 17th when Casey Mears tagged the wall on Lap 148 to bring out the third caution flag of the race.
After a Lap 150 pit stop (four tires, fuel and a left-front air pressure adjustment in 12.4 seconds), Hornish was up to seventh for the Lap 158 restart. He climbed to sixth on Lap 159, before a tight handling condition stalled his move forward.
Hornish had fallen to ninth on Lap 187. One lap later, Jeff Gordon hit the wall hard due to a stuck throttle and brought out the fourth caution of the race on Lap 188. When Hornish hit pit road on Lap 189, the call was for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment.
The top-six starters on the Lap 195 restart had gone with only right-side tires during the yellow and Hornish was 11th when the green flag fell once again. Hornish was able to climb as high as eighth on Lap 195 and maintained that position when the final round of green-flag stops began on Lap 226.
The 22 car hit pit road for the final time on Lap 229, with the call going for rights only and fuel. The stops finally cycled around on Lap 242 with Hornish running seventh and racing against a lot of drivers who hat gotten four tires on their final stops.
The handling issues saw Hornish drop to 12th with five laps remaining and he moved up to 11th as Denny Hamlin ran out of fuel at the end of the race.
Up front, it was Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski taking the victory and the points lead by holding off Jimmie Johnson by 3.171 seconds at the finish. The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Team gave Keselowski the fastest stop during their final trip to pit road on Lap 229. Keselowski blasted off pit road with the lead and never looked back in scoring his fourth win of the 2012 season.
Johnson finished second, with Kasey Kahne third, Kyle Busch fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer completed the top-10. Hornish, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin and Paul Menard rounded out today’s top-15 finishers.
“We’re really proud of the great job that Sam did out there today and what he continues to do in our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge,” offered crew chief Gordon. “He deserves a lot of credit for keeping his cool and staying focused when we got the speeding penalty early in the race and fell a lap down. You can just hear in his voice how much he wants to be logging those top-10 finishes. It’s three straight races where we had to settle for 11th and we all know that we had a stronger car than that. The great thing is that we have the consistency going now and we’re convinced that a lot of top-10s and top-fives are right around the corner.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads back up to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Race No. 28 of the 36 battles along the 2012 tour. This weekend’s action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday’s 3:40 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying (live on SPEED-TV). Saturday’s action includes practice sessions from 9:15 a.m. till 10:15 a.m. and from 11:00 a.m. till 11:50 a.m. (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s SYLVANIA 300 (300 Laps, 317.4 Miles) has a 2:00 p.m. EDT starting time. Live coverage of the race will be provided by ESPN-TV and PRN Radio.