Sam Hornish Jr. Wins at Iowa!
The matte black Monster Energy Camry and Sam Hornish Jr. were together again in the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 54 NASCAR Nationwide Series program, this time with a checkered flag as the result. Last race, Hornish Jr. debuted with the 2013 season 12-time winners and produced a fifth-place finish at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. This week, his second of seven scheduled primary events, he and crew chief Adam Stevens bridged the learning-curve to produce a dominating performance on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway in Newton. The JGR Toyota Camry led the field four times for a race-high 167 of 250 event laps before taking home the win.
The victory was Hornish Jr.’s first win in six races at the Newton facility and third series win in 101 Nationwide Series starts. The team knew they had a car to be competitive with once Hornish Jr. qualified Saturday with a second-place effort, narrowly missing the pole position. It would put the Monster Energy athlete on the front row to start the 218.75-mile ‘Get to Know Newton 250’ race. When the green-flag dropped, Hornish Jr. immediately took over the first-place position and never looked back.
The Monster Energy athlete reported early to his team that he was a “two out of five loose” around the whole track for which the team prepared adjustments to be made on the first pit stop of the day. That opportunity came on lap 43 under a caution flag and the Joe Gibbs Racing crew conducted a fast pit stop and returned their No. 54 machine to the front of the field for restart. The black and green Monster Energy machine remained in the first-place spot until lap 91 when Hornish Jr. was overtaken by the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford, a strong contender the majority of the race.
“I’m tight – feels like we are hitting the splitter,” explained Hornish Jr. to his team. “I don’t know if there is a slow leak or we abused the right-front tire,” he further described. To which Stevens replied, “Yes the track is still taking rubber but we probably did abuse that tire.” Upon completion of the subsequent pit stop, the No. 54 team identified the right front tire was indeed ‘cording’ which provided an explanation for what Hornish Jr. was feeling that last run.
Back to a green flag and past the race halfway point, the Monster Energy team found themselves in second place again to the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford. “We tightened it up too much, it’s shoving the nose,” Hornish Jr. reported. A subsequent pit stop offered the team time for more adjustments and Hornish Jr. soon saw the results he was looking for. The JGR unit resumed first place with 100 laps remaining in the race. Stevens was heard over the radio to his driver, “Good work! Manage the gap, no more than you need.”
A late race caution on lap 212 provided one more opportunity for the Monster Energy team to refuel Hornish Jr.’s Camry and prepare him for the end of the race. With four Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel replenished, the team sat in third place until lap 220 when the No. 54 grabbed the second-place spot just before the final race caution. One more green-flag restart and Hornish Jr. would resume his earlier position, at the top of the board, with just over 20 laps to be run. No further event cautions occurred and Hornish Jr. strengthened his lead to secure victory for himself and his team – a first for both at Iowa Speedway.
“I’m so blessed and thankful that this opportunity came around,” Hornish said. “I was really hoping and praying that I got something good to get into. It’s pretty darn awesome. I thank God that I got a great opportunity and really good people around me and really good people in my life.”
The No. 54 Monster Energy team owned by J.D. Gibbs maintains first place in the Owner’s Point standings, now leading the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford by 43 points.
Hornish Jr. won the event, followed by Ryan Blaney, Regan Smith, Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler. There were five caution periods for 31 laps of the race along with nine lead changes across three drivers. The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again on May 24 in the History 300 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway , with television broadcast starting at 2:45pm ET on ABC. Kyle Busch will make his ninth start behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.