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.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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