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Hornish Jr. and Dillon battle it out in points

August 31, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Hornish and Dillon

Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon are in midst of a points battle atop the Nationwide standings 

HAMPTON, Ga. – NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. went from seeing his points lead sliced in half to nearly doubled instead.

All in the course of the final seven laps of Saturday night’s Great Clips/Grits Chips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Granted, at just 10 points the Penske Racing driver’s advantage on Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing) remains still a slim one. A four-point gain doesn’t sound tremendous.

It was, however, a seven-point swing that took place on a hot, steamy night South of Atlanta when Dillon (fifth at the time) and Hornish Jr. (seventh) fell in line for the final restart.

Dillon, stuck in the outside lane; Hornish two rows back, but on the preferred inside.

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“It was a good set of (pit) calls and really having a good lane choice there at the end, being in the right place,” said Hornish after his fourth-place run and 11th top-five finish of the season. “So many times you get stuck out here by being in the wrong lane, but tonight it really worked out for us and we were exactly where we wanted to be.”

Dillon earned one bonus point for leading a lap earlier in the 195-lap race. Circumstances at the end weren’t as helpful, leaving him eighth at the checkered flag.

“We restarted fourth, the 22 (of Joey Logano) spun his tires and I can’t pass him before the start/finish line,” Dillon said afterward. “I hit him, the six (of Trevor Bayne) is holding back, gets a run on the outside and you’re in the middle getting spun around there.

“Whoever started on the outside could not go not matter who it was, Kyle Busch, (Logano), me. You’re just a sitting duck. (Bayne) about wrecked me at the start/finish line so I should have done that to the 22, I guess. That’s part of it; you’re racing hard, we just move on and keep going.” 

It’s not quite a two-horse show as the series prepares to head off to Richmond International Raceway for next weekend’s 25th stop of the season. Elliott Sadler struggled mightily with his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and came home 18th. He took a big points hit, but sits only 26 back of the leader with nine races remaining. 

Likewise, Regan Smith (JR Motorsports) failed to gain, a ninth-place run expanding his deficit from 24 to 29 points.

Hornish Jr., running in the top 10 all evening, said his Ford was “pretty good” during long, green-flag runs, but “we’d get kind of stuck behind some people and the car would free up a little bit. I could make passes, but it was just going to take me a long time to get there.

“We made some good adjustments to be able to make the car better and I had a direction that I wanted to go and Greg (Erwin, crew chief) had a direction he wanted to go and we put them both together and we were able to get a good restart and get our way up to third, so I’m real happy with the performance that we put out tonight." 

Consistency has been the team’s calling card this season. And Hornish said the performance of a new car used at AMS is a sign that the team is continuing to improve.

“So, in my eyes, that’s a good thing that we’re continually trying to evolve and even make ourselves better than where we’re at,” he said. “But I feel like there’s not a race track that we go to on this last group that I don’t feel like if we go out there and perform to what our ability is that we’re not going to be able to either gain some points or hopefully at least minimize the day.

“I feel like our bad days need to be a 12th-place finish, so the fact we can take days like today where we weren’t as good as we probably needed to be and were probably about a fifth-place car, and were able to get a third out of it, that’s great.”

Dillon isn’t ready to toss in the towel, although he admitted he hated the team was unable to capitalize with a superior car.

“You hate to lose them,” he said of the points exchange, “but I’m fine. We’re fine. We’ve got fast race cars. … This is just one of the hardest places to restart; luck was on their side tonight and hopefully it’s on our side the next time.”

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