Like a runaway freight train, Sam Hornish Jr. was hooked up like he was on a rail, leading 167 of 250 scheduled laps to dominate and ultimately win Sunday’s Get to Know Newton 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway.
Making only his second of seven scheduled starts this season in the NNS for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hornish had the strongest car, holding off runner-up Ryan Blaney by .699 seconds.
“I knew this would be a great opportunity for me,” Hornish said. “I know it’s seven races, but it’s also seven chances to win, every time you get into the car.”
Hornish finished fifth at Talladega in his first start of the season for JGR two weeks ago, and Sunday’s performance just verified Hornish’s offseason decision to forego a return to Penske Racing and instead move to JGR.
“It’s just awesome,” Hornish said of his first career win on a short track (Iowa is a .875-mile D-shaped oval). “To get out there and get in this car seven times a year, we take advantage of it. We got a pole at Talladega, finished fifth and then we did what we had to do today.
“When it got down to the end of the race, I just drove my guts out to try and get us a lead. It was just an awesome day.”
The 167 laps Hornish led are a NASCAR (both NNS and Sprint Cup) career-high for him in a single race.
There were just three leaders and nine overall lead changes in the race, which had just five cautions for 31 laps.
Blaney, who essentially replaced Hornish at Team Penske after last season, led 81 laps, but following a final restart with 20 laps remaining, he just couldn’t catch Hornish.
“We weren’t good enough on new tires,” Blaney said. “We took off way too tight. … Just too much to bear there with the 54 on new tires. … It just wasn’t enough.”
Regan Smith finished third.
“We were just struggling all day long for clean air,” Smith said. “We had two of our (JR Motorsports) cars in the top five (teammate Chase Elliott was fourth). You can’t be mad about that.”
One day after graduating from high school, Elliott retained his lead in the standings, slightly increasing his edge from one to two points over Elliott Sadler and Smith, who are tied for second.
“We just kept having to play catch-up all day,” Elliott said. “This Nationwide Series is tough. Our program needs a little work. We’ll go back and work on it and get ready for next week at Charlotte.”
Sadler was happy for Hornish, his JGR teammate, but not so much for his own fifth-place finish, especially since he wasn’t able to finish ahead of Chase Elliott or to overtake him for the NNS points lead.
“A top-five finish was not what we wanted, but it could be worse,” Sadler said.
Sixth though 10th were Brian Scott, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Landon Cassill.
Eleventh through 20th were Dylan Kwasniewski, Brendan Gaughan, Chris Buescher, Chase Pistone, Austin Theriault, Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg, J.J. Yeley, James Buescher and Ryan Gifford.
Going back to the standings, Elliott, Sadler and Smith are starting to turn things into somewhat of a runaway, as Dillon is fourth (35 points back), followed by Bayne in fifth (36 points back), Brian Scott in sixth (-64 points), Gaughan in seventh (-97), James Buescher in eighth (-110), Chris Buescher in ninth (-119) and Landon Cassill in 10th (-121).
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