|SOURCE: Richard Petty Motorsports|
The finish occurred in Hornish’s 136th series start and was his first since the 2008 running of the same race on the Fontana track, 256 races ago. On that day, February 25, 2008, Hornish was a rookie driving Roger Penske’s #77 Mobil 1 Dodge. On Lap 20, he was involved in a four-car accident off Turn 2 that collected Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Reed Sorenson. Curiously, the wreck that dropped Hornish to 43rd on Sunday occurred in nearly the same spot.
The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion came into 2015 as one of a number of returning series veterans. He made his XFINITY Series debut in 2006 and Cup in late 2007, leading to three full Cup seasons in Penske’s #77. He earned a career-best 4th at Pocono in the summer of 2009, but struggled to find consistency and ultimately moved back to XFINITY. There, a late-season rally in 2011 led to his first stock car victory at Phoenix, then the first of two successful seasons where he finished 4th and 2nd in the standings driving Penske’s #12.
Hornish had also developed into a stead relief driver. In 2012, he ran additional races for Penske in place of the then-suspended A.J. Allmendinger, running 19 races in the #22 Shell / Pennzoil Dodge. The half-season run netted him his most recent top-five finish, a 5th at Watkins Glen. He also ran eight XFINITY races for Kyle Busch last year, earning 2 poles and the third of his series victories at Iowa. And just last year at the same Fontana track as Sunday, Hornish was the eleventh-hour replacement for Denny Hamlin, forced to withdraw due to metal debris in his eye. Hornish came home 17th that afternoon in what was his only Cup start of the season.
This year, Hornish drives the #9 Ford fielded by Richard Petty Motorsports, a ride vacated by road racer Marcos Ambrose, who returned to the V8 SuperCar Series after last November’s Homestead finale. Hornish showed speed at Daytona, and while a crash in his Budweiser Duel sent the team scrambling fora backup, he rebounded nicely to finish 12th. Unfortunately, the three races since have seen him finish worse each week, slipping to 21st at Atlanta, 24th at Las Vegas, and a 40th at Phoenix, leaving him 24th in points.
At Fontana, Hornish was 32nd fastest of 45 drivers in the opening practice session, but improved enough to make the second round of qualifying, securing the 16th starting spot at an average speed of 182.904 mph. On Saturday, he continued to look for speed on the long run, ranking just 34th-fastest after 23 laps in the second session and 29th after another 23 circuits in Happy Hour.
On race day, David Gilliland rolled out 43rd in his #38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford. It was the first time he’d started from that spot since Watkins Glen in 2010. By Lap 2, Gilliland had picked up a couple spots, dropping Mike Bliss to 43rd in the #32 King Taco Ford. Rookie driver Matt DiBenedetto took 43rd on Lap 4, and his #83 Burger King Toyota was the first to lose a lap on Lap 16.
On Lap 21, DiBenedetto’s teammate Jeb Burton briefly held 43rd in the #26 Maxim.com Toyota when the caution flew for a spinning David Ragan in Turn 4. Ragan’s #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota was one of the fastest in practice, and though he didn’t suffer any damage after Jeff Gordon took the air off his spoiler, he lost a lap and spent nearly the entire race trying to get it back.
Bliss retook 43rd on the Lap 28 restart as Ragan climbed his way through the field, followed again by DiBenedetto on Lap 30 and Burton on Lap 64. As these drivers were lapped for a second time, DiBenedetto retook 43rd on Lap 67 when he lost another lap due to a pass-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire. He was still in the spot on Lap 99 when trouble broke out in Turn 2.
By this point in the race, Hornish had also lost a lap and was in a battle for 30th with Trevor Bayne. Coming off Turn 2 to the inside of Bayne, Hornish’s spotter said he was clear, but called it too soon, and Hornish’s Ford hooked to the right, destroying the right-front suspension. In hte ensuing third caution of the day, Hornish pulled behind the wall, where the team made extensive repairs. With the other 42 drivers, including Bayne, still on the track, Hornish dropped to last on Lap 101.
However, the Richard Petty Motorsports team managed to get Hornish back on the track on Lap 148, 51 laps down to the leader. With everyone else running and no more than a handful of laps down, Hornish locked-up the 43rd position just 7 laps later, but remained on track at the finish. DiBenedetto, Bliss, and Burton all remained in the Bottom Five along with 41st-place Brendan Gaughan in his unsponsored #62 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet.
*This marks only the 29th last-place finish for the #9 in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the first since March 30, 2003. That day, Bill Elliott started 6th and led 43 laps of the Samsung Radio Shack 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway before his #9 Dodge Dealers / UAW Dodge lost its engine while leading after 46 laps. It was the 7th of Elliott’s 8 last-place finishes in Cup.
*As reported, this is the first time all 43 drivers have finished a Cup Series race under power since the 2013 Brickyard 400, when Jeff Burton finished 50 laps down in the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet. However, it is not the first time since then that the last-place finisher finished under power - that occurred last June at Pocono, when Dave Blaney’s #77 Amy R. Fochler / www.Valor4Vets.com Ford finished 18 laps down in the Pocono 400.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #9-Sam Hornish, Jr. / 155 laps / running
42) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 203 laps / running
41) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 205 laps / running
40) #32-Mike Bliss / 205 laps / running
39) #26-Jeb Burton / 205 laps / running
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Landon Cassill (2)
2nd) Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sam Hornish, Jr. (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #40-Hillman Racing (2)
2nd) #7-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #9-Richard Petty Motorsports, #88-Hendrick Motorsports (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford (1)