NASCAR Roundup: Hornish gets first NASCAR win

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2011

Associated Press
The NASCAR roundup …
AVONDALE, Ariz. ó Sam Hornish Jr. pumped his fist out the window, made a nice grab to catch the checkered flag and circled toward Victory Lane. He pulled up next to the trophy, climbed out of his car and had trouble getting the words out, his voice cracking as tears filled his eyes.
After everything Hornish had been through since switching to NASCAR, this victory four years in the making hit him with a flood of emotion.
One of the most accomplished American open-wheel drivers in history, Hornish took his first NASCAR victory by passing points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and leading the final 61 laps at slippery Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday.
ěThere were many times where I shook my head and go ëWhy did I do this?í î Hornish said of his switch to NASCAR. ěBut I did know that I would always regret not trying it, so Iím just really, really excited that we were able to keep it going. It ranks right up there.î
Stenhouse took a big step toward the Nationwide season title when Elliott Sadler was taken out with 25 laps left on a bump from behind by Jason Leffler. The unfortunate incident leaves Stenhouse with a nearly insurmountable 41-point lead over Sadler heading into the season finale at Homestead next weekend.
The potentially series-deciding wreck nearly overshadowed Hornishís win. Nearly.
A three-time IndyCar Series championship and the 2006 Indianapolis 500, Hornish switched to NASCAR full time in 2008. His road in stock cars has been checkered at best.
Hornish had a pair of top-five finishes in 2009, but not a whole lot of other success. He struggled in 2010 and was relegated to a part-time schedule on the Nationwide Series this season, earning four top-10s, including a season-best fifth at Chicago.
Hornish was plenty familiar with Phoenix.
He won two IndyCar races there, including his first a decade ago, and had made his first Sprint Cup and Nationwide starts at the mile oval. He even announced his intention to leave IndyCar at the track.
Even after PIR was repaved and reconfigured, Hornish was good again in the desert, starting fifth and staying near the front most of the way.
He made a rare pass on the outside on the new surface to overtake Stenhouse on a restart and was well ahead of Brad Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate, as he took the checkers for the first time in 141 career starts between the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.
Keselowski was second and Carl Edwards third.
ěMan, that sure is great,î Keselowski said. ěSam has paid a lot of dues in NASCAR and itís great to see him get some success out of it.î
Stenhouse finished fifth and Sadler likely will need him to wreck early at Homestead to have a shot at the title.
ěI won so much over at Indy that I didnít know how much to appreciate it at the time,î Hornish said.
He certainly appreciated this one.
Matt Kenseth turned a lap at 137.101 mph on Saturday at Phoenix International Speedway to win his third pole of the season.
AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose qualified second and third as Ford swept the top three spots. Mark Martin qualified fourth and Martin Truex Jr. was fifth, followed by Jamie McMurray and David Reutimann.
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were eighth and ninth.