Rust? What rust?
Despite not having been in a race car since last November, Sam Hornish Jr. proved Sunday he hasn’t forgotten how to win a race.
Filling in for the injured Matt Tifft (back) in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, Hornish responded after a 210-day racing layoff to win Sunday’s American Ethanol E15 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Hornish said on Fox Sports 1. “I just have to thank Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing for getting me out here and giving me this opportunity.
“I was so nervous on Friday, getting into the car, thinking I was going to make a mistake. And now, to go out there and win the way we did, I just can’t say anything more about it.”
JGR reached out Monday to Hornish, asking if he’d be available to fill in for Tifft. Before he committed to JGR, Hornish asked his wife, Crystal, if it would be OK to forego already planned Father’s Day activities to go race, and she agreed to let him head to Iowa. Crystal attended the race along with their three young children.
“I’ve got my wife and kids here,” an emotional Hornish said. “This is the first time the kids got to be here for one of dad’s wins. I can’t tell you what this means to me. … This is one of the best Father’s Days I’ve ever had, I guarantee you that.”
Hornish’s last race in NASCAR was the Sprint Cup season finale last Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He finished 25th in his final start of a one-year deal for Richard Petty Motorsports. Since then, he’s spent a lot of time with his family and even has worked as a substitute teacher on occasion.
Hornish dominated Sunday’s event, leading 183 of 250 laps around the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa. It was his fourth career win in NASCAR’s junior league.
Hornish is no stranger to success at Iowa Speedway. He won there in May 2014. It was Hornish’s eighth Xfinity start at Iowa. His record: two wins and six top-five. His other two finishes were 12th (2012) and 24th (2011).
HOW HORNISH WON: When you have Joe Gibbs Racing power, even with a seven-month layoff, you still have a very good chance to win. And JGR power is what did it for Hornish, who maintained a low line on the track throughout the race and motored to victory lane. It was the ninth win for JGR this season, and he became the fifth driver to win in the No. 18 Xfinity car this season.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Ty Dillon mounted a strong late charge, but Hornish was just too strong. Dillon finished second. … Brad Keselowski roared from starting at the back of the field (improper body modifications) to finish third. … Michigan winner Daniel Suarez was looking for his second straight triumph but just didn’t have enough to mount a late challenge to his winning teammate and finished fourth. Also, kudos to fifth-place finisher Alex Bowman.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After showing promise early in the race, Drew Herring was involved in a late wreck and finished 29th. … Pole sitter Erik Jones started at the back of the field due to improper body modifications, roared back to as high as eighth place, before a fuel pressure problem ruined his day, and he finished 27th.
NOTABLE: Ben Kennedy finished 10th in his Xfinity Series career debut. Kennedy is the grandson of late NASCAR CEO Bill France Jr., and the son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy. … Besides Jones, four other drivers also were forced to the back of the field prior to the start of the race for either improper body modifications or unapproved adjustments: Elliott Sadler (finished sixth), Ross Chastain (14th), Brad Keselowski (third) and Brendan Gaughan (15th). … Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford Mustang still hasn’t won in 2016, its longest win drought since an 18-race stretch before finally reaching victory lane in 2011.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is the first time the kids got to be here for one of Dad’s wins. I can’t tell you what this means to me. … This is one of the best Father’s Days I’ve ever had, I guarantee you that.” – race winner Sam Hornish Jr.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity Series will enjoy next weekend off. The schedule resumes July 1 at Daytona International Speedway for the Subway Firecracker 250 (7:30 p.m. ET start time).