Hornish falls short in quest for Nationwide crown

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Three-time IndyCar Series champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. will have to wait another year before he can attain some more hardware. But after losing the NASCAR Nationwide Series title to Austin Dillon tonight by a scant three points, the next focus for Hornish is just attaining a ride for the 2014 season.

The future is uncertain for the pride of Defiance, Ohio, who entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway down eight points but led the championship for much of the Ford Ecoboost 300 before Dillon claimed just enough positions late to swing the title back to him.

The final caution of the night had a critical impact on Hornish. With 17 laps to go, the yellow came out with Regan Smith, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Clements among those involved in a multi-car crash. But the clean-up took longer than anticipated, and by the time the green resumed, there were only five laps remaining.

In the final dash to the finish, both Hornish and Dillon dropped multiple positions but it was Dillon that wound up with the championship. Had the two tied in points at the end of 200 laps, Hornish would have had the tie-breaker thanks to his sole win this season at Las Vegas.

“We missed it having that late-race caution…On the last restart, the 54 [Kyle Busch] spun his tires a little bit and we didn’t have anywhere to go,” Hornish told ESPN. “We couldn’t get far enough ahead of those guys that were taking four tires. That’s how it worked out for us tonight.”

“We gave away points at different times throughout the season between the driver making mistakes and everybody on this team had a part in making us better a lot of days. We all had a hand in not being the best that we possibly could’ve been everyday. But we win as a team and lose as a team…We just needed a little bit more.”

Now comes the hard part. Hornish had a strong season driving the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford in the NNS, earning 16 Top-5s and 25 Top-10s. But he believes that he’s ready for a return to the Sprint Cup series and unfortunately for him, there is no funding in place at Penske to fuel the move up.

It’s a bizarre situation. Hornish has begun to regularly contend for wins in the stock cars after a rocky transition from IndyCar. And he’s ever determined to cement his place in NASCAR, going so far as to say he had no interest in replacing Dario Franchitti at Target Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar after, according to him, TCGR reached out to his representatives this week.

One hopes that something comes through for Hornish in the NASCAR ranks, whether it’s a full-time program or even a plum part-time ride. In the meantime, his fans will have to cross their fingers.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.