JOLIET, Ill. – Sam Hornish Jr. comes into Chicagoland Speedway carrying momentum from his last two weekends behind the wheel of the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour. His 11th-place finishes at Atlanta on Sept. 2 and last Saturday night at Richmond continued to showcase Hornish’s emerging skills on the Cup side. Hornish will be making his fourth career Cup start at Chicagoland this weekend and he plans on making the best of the opportunity.
“Our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team has had two consecutive strong weekends coming into Chicagoland and we certainly are looking forward to continuing the momentum we’re building,” said Hornish, who’ll be making his 120th career Cup start in Sunday’s race. “We’re happy to be running competitive every week and are thrilled with the opportunity to drive the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, but we can’t be totally satisfied when we look back.
“The fact is that we ran better than our finishes show,” offered Hornish, who’ll be driving the Penske Racing No. 22 Dodge for the 10th time this season in this weekend’s action at Chicagoland. “At Atlanta, we ran in the top five and we had a solid top-10 car at Richmond on Saturday night. So, while we finished 11th in both of those races, we know that we left quite a bit on the table in both of those races.
“In both of the last two races, we started out strong and made a charge up through the pack. It seemed like we’d really get rolling and were running our strongest about halfway to two-thirds through the race. Then we tapered off, while some of the other teams came on strong at the end. We got caught up in that crash on the backstretch at Atlanta with 50 laps to go and that’s what hurt us there. Saturday night at Richmond, the handling bit us at the end.
When we got started again after the rain, we went from being a little bit free to way too tight and couldn’t do what we needed to do.
“So the big goal for Chicagoland is ultimately having another super solid weekend,” said Hornish. “We know in order to get that top-five or top-10 finish, we need to be our strongest at the end of the race. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish there on Sunday; to be able to save the best for last.”
Hornish knows exactly what it will take to be competitive on the 1.5-mile tri-oval speedway located in Joliet, southwest of Chicago.
“You’ve got to have a car that has good horsepower, turns well in the middle and allows you to put the power down on the exit of the corners,” Hornish said. “It’s a lot of fun running at Chicago; it’s always been one of my favorite tracks. You want to qualify as high as you can – it gives you a little more confidence and the opportunity to keep yourself on the lead lap if your car is not that great to start. That way, you’ll have the chance to make it better without going a lap down.”
Hornish has competed at Chicagoland in four different series. In three Sprint Cup races, he has an 18.7 average start and 33.0 average finish. In two Nationwide starts, Hornish has a 5.0 average start and 6.5 average finish (started 7th & finished 5th in 2011 and started 3rd & finished 8th in the July 22 STP 300). In two IROC starts on the track, he finished sixth in 2002 and eighth in 2003. In seven IndyCar races, Hornish has two wins, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s. In one of the most exciting and closest finishes in IndyCar history, Hornish won the 2002 race there by a mere 0.0024 seconds in a three-wide battle to the line.
“I really felt like we had at worst a seventh to 10th-place car there at Richmond on Saturday night, but we had to settle for an 11th-place finish,” offered Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon. “I felt like overall it was another move forward as Sam and our team continue to get stronger and stronger every week.
“The situation at Richmond was a bit bizarre with the weather and all, but we did a pretty decent job of staying on top of it. We never made any major adjustments during the race; just working with the air pressures and track bar. But with the pressures we run there, even changing a few tenths (of a pound) can be significant. The way we went from a little loose to way too tight was surprising. Sam did a great job of hanging in there and getting all we could out of it.
“If we can be as consistent as we have been in the last couple of races and work to be at our optimum during the final laps, I know we can have a very strong performance at Chicagoland on Sunday. Going back to racing on Sunday afternoon, we know the track will be changing, but there will likely not be as big of temperature swing as we have been seeing. Probably the most unique thing we’re up against this weekend is the fact that we haven’t raced on this track this season. The track has certainly changed somewhat since last September. Sam had a strong race there back in July in the Nationwide car and we’ll try to draw all we can off of that for this weekend.”
Hornish, Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be utilizing their “PRS-823” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Chicagoland. This is the same car that AJ Allmendinger last raced in the June 30 Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway (started 16th and finished ninth). This car made its debut for the team in Kansas back in April. Allmendinger won the Coors Light Pole Award and led 44 laps before secondary linkage woes put him 10 laps down and relegated him to a 32nd-place finish.
This weekend’s action at Chicagoland Speedway gets under way on Friday with practice scheduled from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m. Friday’s final practice session is set from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. (live on ESPN2). Saturday’s 12:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday’s 43-car starting field (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s Geico 400 (267 laps, 400.5 miles) has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. CDT (2:00 p.m. EDT) starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.