Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Medallion Bank team overcame many obstacles in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The weather-delayed race proved to be a challenge from the beginning as Hornish battled with the handling of the No. 9 Ford. An early unscheduled pit stop for debris on the grill set the team back even further before receiving damage to the front of the car in two separate incidents later in the race. Hornish and the crew persevered, coming back from as far as 42nd to just missing a Top-20 finish and taking the checkered flag in the 21st spot. He is now 12th in the Championship Point Standings.
Hornish started the 325-lap race from the eighth position but a loose handling racecar forced the No. 9 Medallion Ford to fall back in the field on the opening laps. Hornish was running in the 21st position when the Competition Caution came out on Lap 27. With the new driver-adjustable trackbar, Hornish made an adjustment to the car prior to the caution, and Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called for additional adjustments to the No. 9 Ford on the four-tire stop. Due to lengthy adjustments to the car, Hornish restarted in the 27th position on Lap 32.
Just four laps later, Blickensderfer reported debris on the grill of the No. 9 Ford. A windshield tear-off became stuck to the front of the car, causing the engine temperatures to rise and forcing Hornish to come to pit road on Lap 42. The Medallion Bank crew cleaned the grill and gave the No. 9 Ford Fusion a splash of fuel. The unscheduled stop relegated Hornish to the 42nd spot.
Shortly after returning to the track, the yellow-flag waved on Lap 48 for debris on the backstretch. Hornish reported the No. 9 Ford lacked forward drive and made another trip to pit road for four tires and adjustments. He restarted in the 42nd position on Lap 52.
Hornish gained two spots before a tire on the No. 3 car exploded causing a caution on Lap 61. The debris from the tire hit the Medallion Bank Ford and caused damage to the left front on the car as well as a flat left-rear tire. Hornish immediately brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road before the deflated tire could shred and cause additional damage the car. The team performed two more pit stops under the yellow to change four tires and repair the damage. Hornish was awarded the Lucky Dog and restarted in the 39th position on Lap 71.
Hornish raced his way into the Top-30 and was in the 29th position when NASCAR Officials reported fluid on the track and brought out the caution. Since Hornish had made a trackbar adjustment during the previous run, he came to pit road for four tires and fuel only. He restarted in the same position on Lap 100.
Shortly after the restart, the damaged grill on the Medallion Bank Ford repositioned and was sticking up on the front of the car, causing it to be even freer than before. He was running in the 30th position when Blickensderfer called him to pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 139. With limited time under green flag conditions, the crew could only execute a temporary fix to the damaged grill on the four-tire stop. Hornish maintained the 31st position until debris brought out the caution on Lap 176. This time the No. 9 crew sacrificed a lengthy four-tire pit stop for a more permanent fix to the damaged grill. The Medallion Bank Ford restarted in the same position on Lap 181.
The fix seemed to help, and Hornish began advancing through the field, reaching as high as 23rd during the run before the car began to lose its drive off. Hornish gave up the 24th position on Lap 209 to come to pit road for a green-flag pit stop for four tires and fuel.
Hornish reported the No. 9 Ford was loose on entry and exit just before NASCAR Officials called another debris caution on Lap 253. This time, Blickensderfer called for four tires, a wedge adjustment and fuel. Hornish restarted 24th on Lap 257. The restart generated another caution, but the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford stayed on the track to restart 22nd.
After the restart, Hornish raced his way into the Top-20 but still struggled with the handling of the No. 9 Ford and scraped the wall with the right-side on the car on Lap 280, only causing slight cosmetic damage. Hornish made a trackbar adjustment inside of the car before Blickensderfer called for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 294 for four tires and fuel. Just as Hornish returned to the track, the yellow flag waved on Lap 299 for fluid on the frontstretch. The No. 9 Ford stayed out to take the wave around as the leaders pitted. Hornish restarted in the 25th position on Lap 305.
The restart sparked a multi-car accident in which the Medallion Bank Ford received more front-end damage with nowhere to go to avoid contact. NASCAR Officials brought out the red flag to clean the track. Once clean-up was completed and the yellow flag was displayed, Hornish brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road twice during the caution laps to repair the damage to the car and get fresh tires. He restarted from the 21st position with 14 laps to go.
Hornish continued to battle for position in the final laps but ran out of time to gain positions. He took the checkered flag in the 21st position, narrowly missing a Top-20 finish. After the first two races of the season, Hornish is 12th in the Championship Point Standings.
“We had a lot of obstacles thrown at us today,” said Hornish. “The car wasn’t where we needed it to be today, but with everything that happened to us during the race; we definitely worked hard for that 21st-place finish. It seemed like we couldn’t catch a break there, but I’m proud of this crew. They continued to make adjustments and repair the damage, and we just missed a Top-20 finish with banged up racecar. It’s also encouraging that our teammate, Aric (Almirola), had a great run today. That means we’re going in the right direction as an organization. Our team has some things to work on going into Las Vegas, but we made the most of what we had to work with this weekend.”