Sam Hornish extends point lead as strong season start continuesBy Kelly Crandall
With three wins in the first five races of the Nationwide Series season, veteran Kyle Busch has garnered a lot of attention.
Those chasing Busch though, such as point leader Sam Hornish Jr., haven’t been going quietly into the night. Two weeks ago in Las Vegas it was Hornish who went toe-to-toe with Busch and dominated the race for his first win of the season. Saturday in another west coast race on another big, wide-open track, Hornish again gave Busch a run for his money. This time however, coming up one position short.
“I feel like if I hadn’t I might have had an opportunity but I had to drive it that close to being on the edge to be able to catch him,” said Hornish afterwards on his battle with Busch, which included scraping the turn two wall with two laps to go.
“I could catch him a tenth and a half one lap and then I would stay even with him. It was almost like he was just keeping the gap pretty much the same. The only thing I felt like we might be able to do a little better was run through traffic and we saw it coming but it just wasn’t what we were going to need.”
Hornish, who said he thought the racing was great, felt he could have let Busch have the lead earlier, hoping that he might wear the tires out. Instead he overestimated how much he was pushing his Wurth Ford, including his right rear tire. He lost the lead to Busch with 25 laps to go after leading for a total of 28 circuits.
But the finish gives Hornish, who is just one of two drivers, who have finished in the top 10 in every race this season. It’s what’s helped Hornish become the early championship favorite when the season opened in Daytona. Competitors, such as Busch, have noted that Hornish appears to be a different driver this season, perhaps more focused, determined and already with an edge toward the title. Except, for the Penske Racing team, who haven’t missed a beat since their switch from Dodge to Ford, it’s been business as usual.
“It feels really good. We started off the year just the way we wanted to and have made sure we took care of the car throughout the first five races as well as we could,” said Hornish.
“We wanted to get out of the box good and I preached that to the team in the offseason. We wanted to get through the first five races in good standing and I am real happy with the way Greg Erwin and the guys on the team have been performing and the job they are doing for me.”
The series heads into an off weekend before heading back to the track on April 12 at Texas. Hornish is former winner at the 1.5-mile track during his career in the IndyCar Series and fortunately, the bigger tracks have been his strong suit thus far in the NNS season. When he heads to the speedway next month it’ll be with a 28-point lead on Regan Smith.
“We want to win races as bad as we want to win the points,” Hornish said.
“When there was still smoke in the car halfway down the back straightaway [from hitting the wall] I was worried we would end up with a flat tire and I would end up looking real bad. I am glad things worked out the way they did.”