LOUDON, N.H. – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Sam Hornish Jr. started from the rear of the field in today’s Sylvania 300 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and made an early charge toward the front. But after cracking the top 20, the forward progress stalled as he fought a tight handling condition for the remainder of the race.
“We just fought being tight all race long,” said Hornish. “Our changes didn’t really bring the car around like we needed it to be. We did track bar and air pressure changes without seeing very much relief. We finally stuck a rubber in the right rear and that helped some in the center of the corners.”
Hornish was concentrating on yesterday’s Kentucky 300 Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway (where he finished second) and did not arrive here until late last night. Dave Blaney was at the wheel of the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Friday and Saturday and qualified the Penske Racing entry 10th with a lap of 28.453 seconds (133.863 mph). Because of the driver change, Hornish had to drop to the rear of the 43-car field for the start of today’s race.
Hornish had already charged up to 29th after only four laps. Crew chief Todd Gordon and spotter Chris Osborne coached his patient advancement through the field. He had climbed to 25th when NASCAR officials had a “competition caution” on Lap 40. A pit stop under the yellow saw Hornish get four tires and fuel with track bar adjustment and right-rear air pressure change.
Hornish was up to 21st for the Lap 45 restart. He had climbed to 20th when the first round of green-flag stops was the order. The No. 22 Dodge was extremely tight on throttle. A Lap 105 pit stop saw the “Double Deuce” team go with four tires, fuel and air pressure changes to the right-rear and the left-front.
When the stops had cycled around, Hornish was running 22nd. Denny Hamlin had started 32nd and charged to the lead in 94 laps. His No. 11 Toyota was running laps almost three-tenths of a second faster than any car on the track. Hamlin cleared Hornish on Lap 121 to put the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge down a lap.
Hornish missed getting the “lucky dog” free pass back onto the lead lap by one spot when the yellow flag flew for debris on Lap 128. After the Lap 133 restart, Hornish did a remarkable job in passing cars and getting up into the “lucky-dog-eligible” position. The team caught the break they needed when the third caution flag of the day flew on Lap 177 for debris.
Hornish, Gordon and crew went with major changes during that caution, pushing a spring rubber into the right-rear and making a track bar adjustment – along with getting four tires and fuel.
Hornish was 22nd on the Lap 184 restart and reported 10 laps later that his car was a little better in the middle of the turns. However, the changes made didn’t give the Dodge the speed it needed and he was running 21st when green-flag stops began again on Lap 239.
Hornish hit pit road on Lap 246 for four fresh Goodyears and fuel. Only three laps after the stops had cycled around, leader Hamlin blasted by underneath to again put the 22 car down a lap.
The fourth and final caution of the race fell on Lap 272, again for debris. Carl Edwards was running just in front of Hornish and received the free pass back onto the lead lap. While the leaders opted to stay out, cars running eighth on back hit pit road for a final time. The 22 team went with four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment and lined up 20th for the Lap 278 restart.
With his car still not turning in the center, Hornish saw Bobby Labonte get around in the waning laps and the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team had to settle for a 21st-place finish.
“That was about as dominant of a car we’ve seen in a long time — that 11 car was,” Hornish said of Hamlin’s Toyota. “With him running such a torrid pace and with so few cautions, we just couldn’t make all the adjustments we needed. We were able to make it up to about where we finished and just stalled. Well, it’s back to Dover where we will be running both cars again. I’ll be glad that we’ll be practicing and qualifying in both of them next weekend.”
The dominant Hamlin, who led four times for a race-high 193 laps, claimed the win here today by 2.675 seconds over Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon finished third, with Clint Bowyer fourth and Kasey Kahne fifth. Penske teammate Brad Keselowski brought the Miller Lite Dodge home in sixth, with Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman rounding out today’s top-10 finishers.
After two races in the 2012 Chase, Johnson holds a one-point lead over Keselowski – 2,096 for Johnson to 2,095 for Keselowski.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads back to Dover International Speedway for next weekend’s running of the AAA 400. The action on the Monster Mile gets under way on Friday with practices set from 11:00 a.m. till 12:25 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV) and from 2:40 p.m. till 4:15 p.m. (live on ESPN-2). Qualifying for all 43 starting positions is set for Saturday at 1:40 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s “AAA 400” (400 laps, 400 miles) on the “Monster Mile” is scheduled to get the green flag at approximately 2:00 p.m. EDT. Race No. 28 of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule will feature live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.