DOVER, Del. (September 30, 2012) – Sam Hornish Jr. started fourth in Sunday’s AAA 400 here at Dover International Speedway but had to settle with a 25th-place finish. Hornish had a solid top-10 run going until hitting pit road for his first pit stop of the day on Lap 65. Another potential impressive run by Hornish in the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge went by the wayside after that.
“We just couldn’t catch a break at all here today,” Hornish explained. “We had a solid top-10 car for the first run. We pitted and the yellow came out just a couple of laps later. We went two laps down but took the wave-around to get one of them back. Then when we pitted the next time, we had a loose right-front wheel and had to pit again under green.”
“We had been loose in, tight center, loose off and the changes started to bring the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge around some. We had made it back up to the top 20 when we had another scheduled green-flag stop. Wouldn’t you know it, we hit pit road and the yellow came out again just a few laps later.
“The cautions, when they came out, just didn’t go our way at all today,” said Hornish. “I got into the fence with about 15 to go and that put the finishing touches on a disappointing day.”
Hornish started the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge fourth here this afternoon and was running eighth when green-flag stops were the order. After pitting on Lap 65 for four tires and fuel (round of wedge out and half-pound out of the right-rear in 12.0 seconds), Hornish rejoined the battle. Only four laps later, debris off of the No. 36 car brought out the first caution flag of the day.
Many teams were in the same shape as the “Double Deuce” and only eight cars were on the lead lap for the Lap 77 restart.
Hornish was running 15th on Lap 147 when he hit pit road for another scheduled green-flag stop. This time the culprit was a loose right-front wheel. He was forced to hit pit road again under the green on Lap 158 and fell to 25th, running three laps down to the leaders.
The second yellow flag of the race was displayed on Lap 178, another caution for debris on the track. Hornish was able to stay out, take the “wave-around” and return to only being two laps behind.
After getting back after it on the Lap 184 restart, Hornish advanced from 26th up to 20th when he had to pit again on Lap 236 for four tires and fuel. Only eight laps later, the third yellow flag of the race flew…for debris again.
Hornish fell temporarily to four laps down, but took another “wave-around” to make up one of the laps. He had climbed to 18th in the running order when Matt Kenseth’s smoking Ford brought out the fourth caution on Lap 309. Hornish hit pit road for four tires, fuel and air pressure changes on Lap 312.
Only one lap later, Kenseth spun to bring out the fifth yellow flag of the race. The lead lap car count had grown to 10 at the time and, with fuel mileage now in the equation, some drivers hit pit road for a top-off.
Hornish was 17th and running three laps down on the Lap 322 restart. The fuel-conservation mode was a key tactic for many teams running in the top 25. The forward progress of the 22 team ended on Lap 385, when Hornish got into the wall and had to hit pit road again under the green. He returned to action to complete 393 laps and get credited with a 25th-place finish.
“We pitted under green the first time and about four or five laps the caution came out,” crew chief Todd Gordon explained to Dodge PR representative Denny Darnell when the dust had settled. “You go so slow here on pit road, which put us down by two laps. Then we had a loose wheel. The more you try to dig out of those situations, the bigger gambles you have to take and the bigger holes you get put it. The cautions didn’t fall that well for the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge today. I felt like we had a solid top-10 car today. That first yellow put us in a hole and we never got out of it.”
At the finish in today’s race, it was Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski showing again that he is the new “king” in fuel mileage races. Starting fourth on the Lap 322 restart, Keselowski and his Paul Wolfe-led Miller Lite Dodge Team again knew when to slow and when to go. The result of their saviness saw them take the win here today by 1.078 seconds over runner-up Jeff Gordon. Mark Martin finished third, with Jimmie Johnson fourth and Carl Edwards fifth. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano rounded out today’s top-10 finishers.
Keselowski’s fifth victory of the season and second in the Chase sees him leading the point standings by five points over Johnson (2,142 to 2,137) with seven races remaining to determine the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads back to Talladega Superspeedway for next weekend’s final restrictor-plate race of the season. The schedule at ‘Dega begins on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 1:30 p.m. till 2:15 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. till 4:00 p.m. (live on SPEED-TV). Saturday’s 11:15 a.m. single round of qualifying will establish Sunday’s 43-car starting field (live on SPEED-TV). Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 (188 laps, 500.08 miles) has a 1:00 p.m. CT (2:00 p.m. ET) starting time and features live coverage by ESPN-TV and MRN Radio.