Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Nature Blast team finished 19th in Sunday’s rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Top-20 finish is Hornish’s career-best Sprint Cup Series finish at Bristol. It was an eventful race at “The Last Great Coliseum” as Hornish avoided several big wrecks throughout the night, which allowed the team to battle for position at the end, crossing the finish line in the 19th position, three laps down.
Hornish started the 500-mile race from the 39th position and gained three spots in the first 20 laps before weather brought out the caution, and eventually the red flag. Four Hours later the weather subsided, and the race resumed. Before the race went back to green, Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer called Hornish down pit road for four fresh tires and a trackbar adjustment. The team was unable to fuel the car before the Competition Caution on Lap 62. Hornish restarted in the 36thposition on Lap 35.
Hornish quickly began advancing positions one-by-one, getting as high as 31stwhen the competition caution came out on Lap 62. With fresher tires than the rest of the field, a strategy call by Blickensderfer kept the No. 9 Nature Blast Ford on the track to restart in the second position on Lap 69. Hornish battled inside the Top-10 for the next 10 laps until contact with another car forced him to lose positions. He was in the 23rd position when fluid on the track brought out the caution on Lap 169. He reported the No. 9 Ford was loose in and tight off the corner and came down pit road for four tires, chassis adjustments and fuel. The No. 9 Ford restarted 23rd on Lap 176.
The No. 9 Nature Blast Ford was tight on exit over the next run and fell to the 26thposition when weather hit the area once again, bringing out the caution on Lap 266. Hornish brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road for four tires, a chassis adjustment and fuel. Shortly after the stop, the red flag displayed again. It was just under 14 minutes, and the track for ready to go.
Hornish restarted in the 24th spot when the race went back to green on Lap 278. A multi-car accident on the restart brought out the caution once more. The No. 9 Ford received some nose damage and pitted early to secure the hood. Hornish came to pit road a second time for tires and fuel. He restarted 28th on Lap 292.
Over the next 76 laps, Hornish battled with the handling of the No. 9 Ford, wanting the car to turn better. Cautions on Lap 312 and 345 gave the Nature Blast team opportunities to adjust the handling of the No. 9 Ford during four-tire stops.
Hornish stayed on the track when the caution came out again on Lap 368 but got caught on the inside line on the restart and fell three positions to 27th. Hornish maintained the position until another caution on Lap 474 gave the No. 9 team an opportunity to put at set of fresh tires on the Nature Blast Ford. He restarted in the 25th position on Lap 482.
The yellow flag flew two more times in the final laps for multi-car accidents, giving Hornish the opportunity to stay on the track and take advantage of track position. The final caution set up a green-white-checkered finish with Hornish restating in the 19th position. As the field jockeyed for position, Hornish maintained the 19thspot as he took the checkered flag. Hornish drops two spots in the Championship Point Standings to 31st.
“It was a long day, but we ended up with a Top-20 finish,” said Hornish. “At a place like Bristol, where there are a lot of different factors that come into play, anything can happen, so I’m glad we were able avoid the big wrecks and be there at the end to contend for positions. The Nature Blast team never gave upduring the race; the team made good stops on pit road and worked at improving the handling during the race. We still have some things to work on, but we’re right there.”