NNS: Hornish overcomes early spin, finishes 2nd at Michigan

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Sam Hornish Jr. found himself in an early hole during today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway.

On Lap 2, the former Indianapolis 500 winner spun out after trying to set up a passing attempt on Dale Earnhardt Jr., knocking him to the back of the field.

“It was way too early in the race,” Hornish recalled to ESPN. “I had a big run on the 88 [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] going down the straightaway and instead of dive-bombing him on Lap 1, I thought, ‘I’ll just go up there and try to get a run on him coming off of [Turn] 4.’

“As soon as my nose got in clear air, it pinned the nose and the car came around. I had to throttle it up to keep it from backing up the hill, and I got really lucky that no one hit me – and I started over.”

But there was still plenty of time to climb out of that hole, and Hornish did just that by surging all the way to second place behind Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 winner Paul Menard.

“We had a bunch of ups-and-downs today, and I felt like we had the car really good and that we were going to come to the front,” he said. “And then we had some short runs where the car just wouldn’t go…But the long runs is where were able to shine and be able to make up time.

“Maybe another 10-15 laps, and I would have maybe had something for Paul.”

Hornish quickly charged toward the front after his spin on Lap 2. Taking the subsequent restart in 35th, he pushed himself back into the Top 10 before the first round of pit stops.

In mid-race, Hornish slid to the 15th-20th range as a string of cautions broke out. But when it counted, he went forward again and was in the Top 5 for the final restart of the day with 37 laps to go.

Then with 15 laps left, Hornish followed Menard past Earnhardt to take third position. That appeared to be where he’d stay until leader Joey Logano suffered a flat tire with five laps to go, effectively giving Menard the win and Hornish the runner-up.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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