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Dillon, Hornish close heading to Nationwide finale

November 09, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

Just eight points separate title contenders heading to Homestead

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Sam Hornish Jr. used a gutsy pit call -- or maybe it was a no-call -- to gain track position, then held off Matt Kenseth for a fifth-place finish Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.

The move enabled the Penske Racing driver to keep pace with points leader Austin Dillon with one race remaining in the battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

Dillon, who finished third to race winner Kyle Busch, will head to Homestead-Miami Speedway sporting an eight-point lead -- up from six before Saturday's ServiceMaster 200.

Running outside the top 10 for much of the first half of the race, Hornish Jr. stayed out during the race's third caution, a track-position move that allowed him to restart in second when the green reappeared on Lap 137.

Although he eventually fell back to fifth -- the result of worn tires and re-starting in the outside lane, Hornish was able to maintain his position despite a rash of yellow flags during the second half of the race.

"We were talking too much on the radio and the call might have been different," Hornish Jr. said of the call to stay out. "We were back and forth and it was all going to be (based) on how many cars came (to pit road) ahead of us.

"By talking about it too much we just decided to stay (out). It really worked out well for us."

His said his car "wasn't a fifth-place car. So to be able to get a fifth-place out of it was really good."

In a race that was dominated by Busch -- the Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 169 laps -- Hornish admitted his No. 12 team struggled.

"We ran real good here in 2011 (when we won) but with the exception of that we haven't been able to figure it out," he said. "It was a lot better than yesterday (in practice), but still not as good as we needed."

Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, was fast in practice and fast once the race got underway. Only a late charge and last-lap pass by Justin Allgaier kept the Richard Childress Racing driver from finishing second.

"We had a good car all weekend long; that's what you want to do -- come out and run strong," Dillon said. "The guys did a good job on pit road; we made no mistakes and if we do that one more week, we have a championship."

Dillon said the numerous cautions in the second half of the race was an issue, but added that, "even though my car was pretty good and I finished third, it didn't drive well. It doesn't feel good out there."


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