KANSAS CITY, Kan.- Sam Hornish Jr. hadn’t been behind the wheel of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car for 19 months when he got the call to drive the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge at Daytona back in July. Most agree that Hornish has done a tremendous job and has proven that the hiatus has made him an even more determined competitor in the Cup ranks. That said, it’s easy to understand where he is coming from when he discusses this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 on the newly configured Kansas Speedway.
“What’s different about this weekend compared to my other 14 races driving the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge is that every driver and team will be starting from square one at Kansas this time around,” Hornish said. “With the new configuration and fresh pavement, it’ll be an even playing field heading in there for the race. Certainly the drivers and teams who did the tire testing (included Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya) learned a little more than we know right now, but with what’s on the schedule Wednesday and Thursday, that should be incremental. After all, we have the notes from the 2 car’s testing to use going in there.”
Hornish’s reference to the schedule for Wednesday and Thursday is to the four hours of open testing/practice the Cup teams will get both days this week. In addition, Hornish will be behind the wheel of his No. 12 Penske Racing Nationwide Series Dodge for an additional four hours on Thursday.
Since NASCAR’s last visit to Kansas back in April, the track has not only been completely resurfaced, it has been reconfigured. The original 15-degree banking has been transformed to progressive banking that varies from 17 to 20 degrees. The hopes are that the changes will enhance the passing and overall competition this weekend and on into the future.
“The scenario this week presents a challenge that I am really looking forward to,” said Hornish. “The attitude I am taking heading in there is as positive as it can be in that I have so much confidence in what we can accomplish there. Everyone is coming in there confronting the same hurdles and we can’t wait to see how we can stack up come qualifying and race time.”
“I have seen the new layout firsthand and was definitely impressed with the job they have done,” said Hornish, who viewed the revamped track when he served as the special guest for a media event at the Hollywood Casino on October 2. “I think my biggest question is what effect the changes will make. It may be very little. From what I have heard, the new surface will definitely make it a faster track. That’s a given. I’ve heard predictions of qualifying laps in the high 28-second range (a 28.90 lap would equate to 186.854 mph). That’s what we are expecting to see.
“The even bigger question is how much different your setups will be,” said Hornish. “From all that I have heard, there appears to be little change in how you attack Turns 3 and 4. The major differences I understand are to be down on the other end of the track. I’ve heard that the modification in the banking will call for some adjusting as to how you come off the track and head down pit road. It’s going to be challenging and I can’t wait to get there and get after it in our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.”
“I am really looking forward to this weekend, also,” said crew chief Todd Gordon. “From what Paul (Wolfe, crew chief for teammate Brad Keselowski) and the guys on the 2 car team have said, the new Kansas surface is smooth and fast. Both of our Penske teams will be working together as close as we can to get everything possible out of the track time we’re given there on Wednesday and Thursday. We’ll be looking to find the right balance we want and the speed we need to get the job done there this weekend.”
In four prior Cup starts on the old Kansas configuration, Hornish has a 21.0 average start and a 26.5 average finish. He started 10th and finished 19th in the April STP 400 there behind the wheel of a No. 12 Penske Racing SKF Dodge Charger. Hornish led seven laps in that race. Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 will mark his first start in Kansas Speedway NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. In seven IndyCar starts at Kansas Speedway, Hornish has one win (2006), three top-five finishes and five top-10s.
Hornish, Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be utilizing the “PRS-818” in this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. This car was first raced by teammate Brad Keselowski in the April Martinsville race (started seventh & finish ninth). It was also the No. 2 team’s primary car in the first Pocono race (started 31st & finished 18th) and the September Atlanta race (start 21st & finished third). The “PRS-819” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in the testing this weekend at Kansas. It will serve as the backup for the Sunday race. It is the car that AJ Allmendinger raced in the Martinsville race (finished second after starting 27th).
This week’s schedule at Kansas Speedway begins with Wednesday and Thursday testing. The weekend’s schedule begins on Friday with practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. local time. Friday’s 4:10 p.m. single round of qualifying will set Sunday’s 43-car starting field (live on ESPN-2). Saturday’s schedule calls for morning practice from 10:00 a.m. till 10:50 a.m. and the final “Happy Hour” practice session from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 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.