Sam Hornish Jr. earned his career-best finish at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Hornish and the No.9 Twisted Tea team had a strong showing in the season-opening race. Hornish showed patience at critical times but was also aggressive when he needed to be, running over 50 laps within the Top-10. In a green-white-checkered finish, the No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford crossed the finish line in the 12th-position.
After succumbing to a wreck in his Duel race, Hornish started the 200-lap race from the 41st position. In no rush to make a move to the front, he held court behind the lead pack. Within the first 10 laps, he reported that the air conditioning hose connected to the top of his helmet had come undone. The crew worked on a plan to reconnect it during the first pit stop. Fluid on the track brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 20, giving the team a chance to reconnect the air conditioning. Hornish reported that the No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford was a little free but began getting tight off of the corner. Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called for four tires, wedge and trackbar adjustments and fuel. The extended pit stop to fix the air conditioning put Hornish in the 40th position on the restart.
Once again, Hornish remained patient, content to run in the back of the pack. The No. 9 Ford became freer later in the run, and the Twisted Tea crew received another opportunity to work on the No. 9 Ford when the second caution came on Lap 42. To help with the handling issues, Blickensderfer once again called for a four-tire stop, along with a trackbar adjustment and fuel. Hornish restarted in the 22nd position on Lap 46.
Hornish ran in and out of the Top-20 for the next 40 laps before coming to pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 86 for four tires. He returned to the track leading a second group of cars, just behind the lead pack, producing some of the fastest laps on the track at the time. Debris brought out the caution on Lap 107, and Hornish reported the No. 9 Ford was too tight from the middle of the turn through the exit. He brought the Twisted Tea Ford to pit road again for four tires, a trackbar adjustment and fuel and restarted in the 20th position on Lap 111.
It didn’t take long after the restart for Hornish to get to the front. He made his way to the Top-10 in just four laps. The No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford stayed in the Top-10 for the next 54 laps. Within those 54 laps, Hornish maintained his Top-10 run through two rounds of pit stops, one green-flag stop and one stop under yellow, both for four tires and fuel.
On Lap 169, Hornish found himself in the wrong lane at the wrong time. As the leaders began to race hard for position, Hornish decided to play it safe and stay in the back before making his move. However, three-wide racing the whole way through the field made it difficult to make another move to the front. His luck changed when a two-car accident brought out the caution on Lap 199. Hornish stayed on the track and restarted in the 22nd position for a green-white-checkered finish.
As the field took the white flag and came around for the final time, several cars were collected in an accident. Hornish and spotter Tony Raines did a great job of missing the wreck and raced back to the finish line to collect a 12th-place finish. The Top-12 finish puts the No. 9 team in 12th-place in the Championship Point Standings.
“Our Twisted Tea Ford Fusion was really good if we could just be in the right lane,” said Hornish. “We were able to work our way up there at the mid-point or three-quarter point of the race. We had a restart with about 50 to go where I had a run and just decided better of it. That kind of hurt us for the whole rest of the race because we could never get to where we needed to be. Even with 10 laps to go, it’s not the right time to make a move for the win, so I thought it would be better to try to take care of the car and figured something was going to happen. It was really close to miss all of it.”
“Hats off to everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports for doing such a good job for me,” he continued. “Thanks to everybody at Roush Yates and Ford Performance for giving us a car with a lot of horsepower.”