BRISTOL, Tenn. – Sam Hornish Jr. is quick to point to this weekend’s racing on the .533-mile high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway as his most challenging of the remainder on the 2012 NASCAR schedule. But if attitude has anything to do with it, he has a good possibility of achieving his goal of getting a top-10 finish in Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race.
“Without a doubt, this weekend at Bristol presents our biggest challenge as for the remaining races on the Nationwide side,” Hornish said when queried on the subject last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. “If we are fortunate enough to get to continue driving the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, it’ll be the same situation over on the Sprint Cup side.
“But just because I point to Bristol as the biggest challenge certainly doesn’t mean that I dislike racing there. I really like the track and enjoy racing at Bristol. I am excited about it and looking forward to having the opportunity to race there both nights this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the changes they’ve made to the track play out. Some things will never be different there, however. You have to race smart and always be on your toes.
“Track position is always critical at Bristol and having good pit stops is a must,” Hornish added. “It’s so challenging because you are going so fast and things are happening so quickly. Getting slowed down when something happens in front of you can be really hard to do.”
In six career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol entering this weekend, Hornish is still looking for his first top-10 finish there. He has a 25.3 average start and 31.5 average finish. He has completed 91.2 percent (2,743 of 3,009) of possible laps and is hoping to lead his first lap at BMS in Saturday night’s battle under the lights.
“Our record at Bristol doesn’t really indicate how competitive we’ve been there in the past,” offered Hornish, whose most recent BMS Cup start came in the August 2010 race where he started 25th and finished 25th. “We’ve actually had a couple of really strong races in the Cup Series there. We’ve been running strong and well up in the top 10 heading down to the finish and have mechanical problems bite us with less than 50 laps to go. It’s been a situation where it seems like when we’ve had really good cars there, something has happened to take us out at the end. But when we’ve had our least competitive cars, we’ve not had the big problems like that.
“The first time I went to Bristol Motor Speedway was as a fan and I was just in awe of the stadium-like atmosphere,” added Hornish. “My first race at Bristol was in a Cup car with very limited practice and it was definitely a learning experience. I continue to learn each time we race there and I really feel this could be a good weekend for our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team.”
Hornish started 23rd and finished 13th in the March Nationwide Series race. He started 20th and finished 14th in his other NNS Bristol start in the August 2008 race.
Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon is happy to have Hornish behind the wheel of the No. 22 Penske Racing entry again this weekend and is a huge advocate for his driver to battle it out in both races.
“I definitely think that Sam running both series has been beneficial all the way around and that will certainly be the case this weekend at Bristol,” Gordon said on Monday night. “I think we saw at Watkins Glen, when he did the double there that weekend, that it paid dividends. Sam has a great knack now to automatically click from one car to the other and adapt to what the differences are between the Nationwide and Cup cars.
“You can bet that the 22 car and the 2 car will be sisters at Bristol this weekend,” Gordon stated. “With Brad on such a roll at that track and with the drivers and teams working so well together, we’re confident that we can be so much stronger there this time around than we were during the spring race weekend.
“We continue to improve overall week after week and the fact that Sam’s preferences and feel for the car are so close to Brad’s is such a plus,” said Gordon. “I’m definitely not going into Bristol thinking we can run up front all night, but I do think we can have a respectable race and a solid performance there.”
Hornish, Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be utilizing their “PRS-817” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Bristol. This is the same car that AJ Allmendinger raced in the March 25 race in Fontana, Calif. (started 25th and finished 15th) and again in the June 3 race at Dover, Del. (started 23rd and finished 16th). The “PRS-807” chassis will serve as the backup Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for this weekend. It was in the 22 team transporter serving as the backup at Phoenix, Bristol and Martinsville, but has never seen any track time to date.
This weekend’s action at Bristol Motor Speedway gets under way with Sprint Cup practice on Friday from 12:00 noon till 2:00 p.m. The final practice for the Sprint Cup cars is set from 2:45 p.m. till 3:30 p.m. on Friday (live on SPEED). Saturday night’s 43-car starting field will be determined in Friday’s 5:10 p.m. single round of Cup qualifying (live on ESPN2). Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race (500 laps, 266.5 miles) Sprint Cup race has a 7:30 p.m. EDT starting time, with ABC-TV and PRN Radio presenting live coverage. Due to some ABC affiliates carrying telecasts of NFL pre-season football games or other programming on Saturday night, the race will air regionally on ESPN2 in some markets.