HORNISH, JR. WINS FIRST CAREER NASCAR EVENT
Sam Hornish, Jr., already a two-time winner at Phoenix International Raceway in the Indy Racing League, became the first-ever driver to win at PIR in both an Indy Car race and a major NASCAR event. He finished first in the NASCAR Nationwide Series WYPALL* 200 at the newly repave and reconfigured 1-mile oval.
Hornish left pit road in second place in his Alliance Truck Parts Dodge after a two-tire, yellow-flag stop on lap 133. On the following restart, he surged past leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., from the outside lane. He survived three more restarts to best second-place finisher and teammate Brad Keselowski to deliver the 10th career win at PIR to car owner Roger Penske. Penske has owned eight Indy car winners at Phoenix, including the last by Hornish in March 2005. Rusty Wallace contributed the other NASCAR win in the Sprint Cup Series in 1998.
Hornish was excited about PIR’s new banking and backstretch dogleg. From victory lane, he roared, “I love the new track I think it’s the greatest thing ever!” Later he said, "The way you could pass people in the dog leg and drive way down on the flat and do things like that was wild. I knew we had a good car and I knew we would run strong."
Stenhouse went on to finish fifth today and all but lock up the 2011 Nationwide Series title. He leads Elliott Sadler by 41 points with one race remaining. Stenhouse led 73 laps today, more than any other driver, in his Ford Drive One Ford but couldn't hold off Hornish in turn 1 when the most critical move of the race took place on a lap 140 green flag.
The championship hopes of Sadler all but died and those of pole sitter Aric Almirola officially ended in a three-car wreck on lap 177. Sadler, on the inside of the track coming off turn 2, drove quite low and came up in front of Almirola and Jason Leffler as the three battled for spots in the top 10. Leffler tapped Sadler, slid into Almirola, and all three hit the turn 3 wall. Veteran Morgan Shepherd also was collected in the crash that brought out a red flag for 11 minutes and 27 seconds.
Sadler, who finished 27th, blamed Leffler, saying, "The number 38 (Leffler) just run right into the back of us. Not much respect for guys running for the championship." Leffler took full responsibility, noting, "It’s tough back there because when a guy slides across there he clears you but it kills off (his) momentum. He’s (Sadler) a good driver, smart driver. So obviously he lifted early to keep from blowing the corner."
Almirola, who harbored a slim chance to stay in NASCAR Nationwide Series contention, started as if he wanted to run away with today's race. He led the first 66 laps until overtaken by series points leader Stenhouse.
Joey Logano, driving the No. 18 Game Stop Call of Duty MW3 Toyota, had his sights set on Carl Edwards in the World Financial Group Ford. While Kyle Busch mostly has piloted his car this year to within two owner points of Edwards' Fenway-Roush Racing machine, it was left to Logano to try to catch Edwards today. He couldn't quite make it, finishing in fourth place, one spot behind Edwards. However, the owner points remain an open question as the Teams head to Homestead-Miami for next week's 2011 finale.
Several drivers from today's race – Edwards, Logano, Clint Bowyer, and Joe Nemechek – will stick around for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at PIR, which will go a long way in determining the season's champion. Edwards leads Tony Stewart by three points.
Although grandstand seats for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are sold out, fans can still catch the action live from PIR’s hillside area. Hillside area tickets are $40 on race day and children 12 and under are admitted free. Hillside tickets do not allow access into the main PIR gates including the Fan Midway. For tickets and information, log on to www.PhoenixRaceway.com or call 866-408-RACE (7223).