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Hornish lands in Phoenix with Nationwide lead

February 28, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

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Riding a high he hasn't experienced in his NASCAR career, Sam Hornish Jr. heads to Phoenix International Raceway for Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Dollar General 200 Fueled by AmeriGas (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with something he's never had before -- the series lead.

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His runner-up performance in last Saturday's DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway was his best finish at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in NASCAR's three national series. Because NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Tony Stewart won the race and was not eligible to receive championship points, Hornish was the lucky benefactor of the points lead leaving Florida.

And Hornish couldn't ask for a better track at which to defend his first points lead.

"We had a good run in Daytona, which we feel good about," said Hornish, the driver of the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford. "Now we are getting to a track where we feel that we are capable of running well. So I feel great."

In the fall 2011 race at Phoenix, Hornish beat Brad Keselowski to the checkered flag by 0.553 seconds, his first and only victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

In Hornish's last three starts at Phoenix he has an average starting position of 5.0 and an average finishing position of 7.0, proving that despite rough outings in his first two races (36th- and 39th-place finishes, respectively) and the one-mile track's tricky configuration, he's learning the secrets of mastering the Southwestern track.

"I've always enjoyed tracks that are very different from end to end," said Hornish. "Of course, some of that success is also having equipment and a team that is capable of winning, which we have with our Penske Racing Ford Mustang."

With another solid performance this weekend, Hornish should expect to increase his one-point lead over Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contender Alex Bowman, who finished third in the Daytona race.

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