As Bristol nears, Hornish Jr. hopes to join his Penske Racing teammates at Victory Lane
In what was a banner weekend for Penske Racing, it would be easy to file away the third-place run by Sam Hornish Jr. in the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ first race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as an overshadowed moment.
Yet Hornish’s day may have a much longer-lasting impact.
On a weekend where Joey Logano (Sprint Cup Series) and AJ Allmendinger (Nationwide) hoisted trophies driving Roger Penske-owned cars, Hornish regained the Nationwide Series points lead heading into the final third of the season. He now carries a moderate 13-point lead over second-place Elliott Sadler in the series standings, but the oh-so-close margin from first to fifth place remains a cozy 18 points.
Hornish has been no lower than fourth place in the Nationwide hunt this season, and that drop came after a mechanically abbreviated 34th place at Indianapolis that matched his worst finish of the year. In the three races that followed, Hornish’s No. 12 Ford finished second twice (Iowa, Watkins Glen) and then third at Mid-Ohio to overtake Austin Dillon for the top spot in the season-long fight.
“I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity,” Hornish said after the inaugural Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. “What I feel like is our main objective right now is living up to our full potential and minimizing the bad days. We’ve had really good cars and the days that we haven’t had good races, we’ve pretty much been running in the top three when we’ve had all our problems, so the big thing that we do is when we have a bad day, figure out how to not make it worse.
“Each of the things that have caused us problems are all different, and we’ve only had one race where I think that we finished outside the top 10 where that’s just where we ended up at because we weren’t good enough. We’ve got a lot of speed, which is the first part about being successful. Now we just need a little bit of luck, and unfortunately we used up a little bit of that in the last lap today.”
Hornish was alluding to Saturday’s hectic green-white-checkered overtime finish, which sent tempers rising and points totals plummeting. He can likely expect more of the same at the close-quarters Bristol Motor Speedway, which hosts the series’ next round, Friday night’s Food City 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Hornish lacks a history of steady results at Bristol, where he has just one top-five finish in 11 NASCAR national series starts. That one top-five, however, came in his most recent race there -- a fourth-place afternoon in the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 in March.
The Penske organization as a whole carries a head of steam into Bristol. Allmendinger’s triumph marked the third straight win for Penske’s No. 22 team, which has eight victories this season and currently leads the Nationwide Series’ owners points.
If success breeds success, Hornish certainly says he feels the benefit.
“The 22 and the 12 are working better together as teams,” Hornish said. “The thing that I think really stands out about why our teams are running as well as they have right now is that no matter who’s in the 22 car, we all work together very well. We’ve got good baseline setups and we’re able to improve upon them.”