TALLADEGA, Ala. – SKF Dodge Charger driver Sam Hornish Jr. saw a strong top-10 finish in today’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 evaporate on the final lap. Running in the lead pack in the outside lane heading to the finish line here at Talladega Superspeedway, Hornish was innocently caught up in the “big one” and was credited with a 24th-place finish when the review of the carnage was completed.
“We had really good position at the end of the race heading to the checkered flag,” Hornish told Dodge PR representative Scott Sebastian after the race. “It looked like some guys got together and all heck broke loose. We took the full brunt of three cars coming up through the race track. I was really happy with the SKF Dodge Charger all day. It was just unfortunate that we didn’t make it to the end because our finish doesn’t represent how strong our car was today. We just didn’t make it through that last mishap.”
Hornish started from the 10th spot here this afternoon after qualifying with a lap of 50.234 seconds (190.628 mph) in Saturday’s time trial session. He ran as high as fourth and as low as 26th during the 188-lap battle on the circuit’s longest (2.66-mile) race track.
Only four cautions (for 16 laps) had slowed the pace of the race until the final restart. Single-car incidents that had avoided the potential for big-time disaster were the case until the final “big one” that involved some 25 cars.
Defending Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart was leading on the final lap with the front pack running four-wide and eight-deep. Stewart made a blocking move on the advancing Toyota driven by Michael Waltrip that triggered the biggest crash here in many years.
Hornish lined up 16th for the final green-white-checkered finish and used the outside lane to his advantage. He appeared to have his own advancing move going when Stewart’s run-in with Waltrip sent the No. 14 car into a spin and lift that created a bowling-pin effect in wiping out the cars around him. Hornish was not able to escape getting caught up in the wreck and his Dodge Charge was one of many cars that had to be returned to the garage area on a rollback wrecker.
Matt Kenseth was able to avoid the crash and came home the winner in today’s race. Jeff Gordon escaped the wreck to finish second, with Kyle Busch third, David Ragan fourth and Regan Smith fifth. Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski, Travis Kvapil, Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton completed the top-10 finishers.
Keselowski’s finish allowed him to maintain the points lead with six races remaining to determine the 2012 Sprint Cup points titlist. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing has a 14-point lead over Jimmie Johnson (finished 17th) after the first four races of the Chase have been placed into the record book.
Stewart took complete responsibility for his actions after the race. ”I just screwed up,” Stewart said. “I turned down and cut across Michael and crashed the whole field. It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at. I was trying to win the race and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt there and Michael got a great run on the bottom and had a big head of steam, and when I turned down, I turned across the front of his car. Just a mistake on my part but cost a lot of people a bad day.”
“It was just a product of this kind of racing,” offered Penske Racing crew chief Todd Gordon. “I thought we saw two or three other situations that could have created big crashes, but some incredible driving prevented them. It was all building up to the big one we finally had there at the end. Sam was running an excellent race and we definitely had a strong SKF Dodge Charger prepared for him. It was just typical Talladega racing and unfortunately we got caught up in the big one at the end. We’re just glad that all the drivers came out of it without injuries again here this afternoon. That speaks volumes for the safety factors we have in these Cup cars today.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup tour now heads back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the fifth of the 10 Chase races. This weekend’s schedule at Charlotte Motor Speedway begins on Thursday with practice from 3:30 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. Qualifying is set for 7:10 p.m. and will determine all 43 starting positions for Saturday’s race (on ESPN-2). Friday’s schedule calls for practice sessions from 3:00 p.m. till 3:55 p.m. and from 5:50 p.m. till 6:50 p.m. (on ESPN2). Saturday’s Bank of America 500 (334 laps/501 miles) has a scheduled 7:30 p.m. ET starting time, with ABC-TV and PRN Radio providing live coverage of all the action.