CONCORD, N.C. (October 11, 2008) – Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished the Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 22nd place after starting from the rear of the field due to the team’s use of the backup car. The Mobil 1 team worked methodically to improve the balance of the No. 77 machine throughout a race filled with obstacles, resulting in the team’s best finish in eight weeks. For his performance, Hornish received “Rookie of the Race” honors after finishing one spot in front of Regan Smith.
As racing action was set to begin on Saturday night, Hornish radioed his team in encouragement. “Sorrry for putting us behind from the start,” said Hornish, who had trouble during a Friday practice session, forcing the team to go to a backup machine. “It’s a long race so let’s work hard and see what we can get here.”
By lap five, Hornish relayed that the Mobil 1 Dodge was tight-handling on exit of the corners on both ends of the track. The condition worsened by lap 17, when he radioed that the No. 77 was very tight all around the corners. When the first caution flag of the race waved on lap 34, Hornish was posted in 38th place, running one lap down to the leaders.
As the field slowed under caution for a single-car accident in turn four, Hornish radioed to the crew that the right-front tire suddenly blew, possibly due to on-track debris as well as him scraping the wall. Hornish quickly moved down to pit road for four tires, fuel, wedge and track bar adjustments. Crew chief Travis Geisler instructed Hornish to return immediately to pit road to “top off” with fuel and check for damage. With everything in order on the Mobil 1 machine, Hornish restarted the race in the 42nd position, one lap down to the leaders.
When the caution flag waved again on lap 52, Hornish provided the team with feedback on the Mobil 1 Dodge. “The car is quite a bit better,” relayed Hornish. “But I don’t know how it will be on a long run. It’s still a little tight but I’m not sure if we should risk too big of an adjustment here.”
Hornish came to pit road on lap 57 for just four tires and fuel, restarting the race in 39th place. By lap 100, he was posted in the 36th spot, still running one lap down.
When the caution flag waved on lap 102 for an accident involving the No. 88 machine, Hornish radioed that the Mobil 1 Dodge was extremely tight after a previous brush with the wall. He came to pit road for four tires and fuel on lap 104. Hornish returned to the pits on lap 106 for a track bar adjustment, and the crew also adjusted the “toe,” or front end alignment. He restarted the race in 36th place.
A series of cautions ensued, and the Mobil 1 team continued to work on the balance of the No. 77 Dodge with Hornish set to the task of advancing his position in the running order. When the first of two rounds of green flag pit stops began, Hornish came to pit road on lap 173 posted in 29th place.
After a pit stop for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment, Hornish was docked with a “pass through” penalty by NASCAR for entering pit road too fast. He was one of several drivers receiving speeding violations. When pit stops cycled through, Hornish was posted in 34th place, now two laps down to the leaders.
The next 20 laps saw three cautions, with a multi-car accident bringing out the yellow flag on lap 194. Having pitted under caution just laps earlier, Hornish stayed out on track and lined up for the restart with others on the same strategy in front of then-leader Greg Biffle. A fortunate caution occurred in a matter of laps, and Hornish regained one of the two laps that he was down.
Posted in 28th place, crew chief Geisler called Hornish to pit road on lap 208 for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Although it had only been 19 laps since the team’s last pit stop, it was a fortunate call as the grille of the Mobil 1 machine was filled with grass, which could’ve caused the engine to overheat if not removed.
“We could’ve gained some track position by staying out,” said Geisler after the stop. “But the grille was full of grass. We’ll reset here and go after the ‘lucky dog’ position. I think we have the car to get it.”
Hornish restarted the race on lap 211 in 27th place, prepared to race his way into position as the first car one lap down, or the ‘”lucky dog.” If successful, he would be allowed to return to the lead lap in the event of a caution.
The second round of green flag pit stops began shortly after lap 250, with Hornish running in the 23rd place, one lap down. He came to pit road on lap 257 for four tires, fuel, wedge and track bar adjustments. As pit stops were almost complete, a caution for debris came out on lap 164, leaving just 12 cars on the lead lap. Hornish restarted the race on lap 269 in 23rd place, two laps down to the leaders.
Under the green flag, Hornish was posting competitive, top-five lap times as racing action began to wind down. He set to the task of passing fellow rookie Regan Smith, who was also two laps down, in order to be the top-finishing rookie and gain valuable points in the close race between the two for the Rookie of the Year award.
He was able to do just that in the final laps of race, taking the checkered flag in 22nd place, two laps down to race winner Jeff Burton.
The No. 77 team remains 37th in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings, 143 points outside of the top-35.
“The Mobil 1 Dodge was pretty good most of the night,” said Hornish at the conclusion of the 334-lap event. “I sped on pit lane and that killed us. If I hadn’t have done that we would have probably been able to be on the lead lap and running in the top-15. It was a good night, though. All the guys on the team worked really hard. We came back and did what we needed to do after we were already in trouble. We’re now learning how to do that better.”
Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman finished in 3rd and 21st place, respectively.
Hornish and the No. 77 team head to Martinsville Speedway next weekend for the excitement of the TUMS QuikPak 400. Racing action will be televised live on ABC at 1 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast on MRN at 12:45 p.m. EDT.