MARTINSVILLE, Va.- Sam Hornish Jr. is hoping to continue from where he left off in Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Hornish last visited the scenic little .526-mile paper-clip-shaped track for the October 2010 race and is eager to continue the progress he has shown behind the wheel of the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.
“Martinsville is another track where our competitiveness is not accurately shown in our statistics there,” said Hornish, who will be making his seventh career Martinsville NASCAR Sprint Cup start in Sunday’s race. “In the six races we’ve run there entering this weekend, I think it’s a fair statement to say that we showed steady improvement.”
The numbers certainly do reflect Hornish’s progress along the way. In six prior Cup starts during the 2008-2010 seasons at Martinsville Speedway, Hornish has a 30.3 average start and a 28.3 average finish. He made solid steps forward and posted his best start and best result to date during his last two trips there. Entering this weekend’s return, Hornish’s best finish, a 13th, came in the spring race of 2010. His best start, a 24th, came in the fall race there that season.
“When I first raced at Martinsville, I immediately thought of when I was growing up and racing go-karts,” Hornish said. “We used to run indoor hockey venues and Martinsville reminded me of those smaller tracks like that. You can count on there being a lot of beating and banging on every restart at Martinsville and there is always someone trying to get right in there on your inside.
“I think it’s a track where I have learned better how to race there in each visit,” said Hornish. “But no matter how many races you may have under your belt there, the objectives always remain the same. At Martinsville, you just have to stay out of trouble, try to keep your nose clean and keep the brakes on the car as much as you can. It is a track that tests your patience from the beginning of the race till the very end. It is really challenging, mentally, physically and on your equipment. The bottom line is you have to keep your cool and take care of your brakes, tires and fenders.
“It’s really about not overdriving at Martinsville,” Hornish added. “Especially during qualifying, the track seems to bait you to drive in that extra 10 feet. When you do that, it may not feel bad, but it shows up on the stopwatch. That 10 feet can be the difference between starting 10th and starting 20th so you have to be aware of what you’re doing at all times.”
Hornish’s continuous progress in Sprint Cup competition at Martinsville and on all the tracks has been quite impressive. In his first full season on the tour in 2008, he had a 28.0 average start and 29.6 average finish. In 2009, it was a 23.4 average start and 25.0 average finish. In 2010, he had a 20.8 average start and 24.9 average finish.
In his 16 starts this season entering Martinsville, Hornish has a 15.6 average start and a 19.0 average finish. The figures are impressive, especially when considering there are two DNFs (not of his doing) that enter into the 2012 equation.
“This is a track that I have definitely been looking forward to returning to,” said Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon. “The record book shows that the 22 team had our best finish this season there in the spring race with AJ (Allmendinger) driving. I know a lot of people remember that the race came down to a final restart and we got the best out of the situation. But the fact is that we had a solid top-10 car during the last half of the race.
“We’re coming in there this weekend with a hundred percent Sam Hornish,” Gordon said on Monday night. “This is all the racing that Sam will be doing this week – total focus on the Cup side and our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. Unlike last weekend at Kansas where there was the new track and an advantage to running both Nationwide and Cup, this is the same old Martinsville. Sam has nothing to concentrate on but the Cup race.
“One of the greatest assets in working with Sam is that he comes into every race with such a positive attitude,” said Gordon. “It doesn’t matter what size track or where we’re racing that weekend, Sam is always optimistic and on an even keel. He always comes in there so energetic and ready to get to work behind the wheel of the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge.
“That’ll certainly be the case again this weekend at Martinsville,” said Gordon. “I know for a fact that there are drivers who will absolutely dread having to race there this weekend. Their attitude will have them defeated long before practice begins on Friday. Sam may have not raced there in a couple of years, but he will already have the upper hand on a bunch of guys before the green flag falls to start the race there on Sunday.”
Martinsville Speedway holds the distinction of being the location for Hornish’s only career start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Hornish started 16th and finished ninth in the Oct. 18, 2008 Kroger 200. Driving a Penske Truck Rental-sponsored Dodge out of the Bobby Hamilton Racing stable, Hornish was one of 23 drivers who completed all 200 laps.
Hornish, Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be utilizing the “PRS-828” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend’s TUMS Fast Relief 400 at Martinsville. Hornish and team last raced this chassis in the September 2 Advocare 500 at Atlanta, where they started 15th and finished 11th. It was a new car for the Atlanta race and has not been utilized since. The “PRS-807” will serve as the backup Shell-Pennzoil Dodge. It was in the 22 team transporter serving as the backup at Phoenix, both Bristol races, the first Martinsville race, the second Richmond race and the second Charlotte race. It has never seen any track time to date.
This weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule at Martinsville Speedway gets under way with Friday’s practice from 12:00 noon till 1:30 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s 500-lap battle is set for Friday at 3:40 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV). Saturday’s schedule features practice sessions from 9:30 a.m. till 10:25 a.m. and from 12:00 noon till 12:50 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 has a scheduled 1:30 p.m. local (ET) starting time at the 0.526-mile flat track with tricky inside curbing in the corners. ESPN-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.