Sam Hornish Jr. is looking forward to his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series return to his “home track” – Michigan International Speedway – for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Hornish will be making his sixth start of the season behind the wheel of Penske Racing’s No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge on Sunday.
“Michigan is my home track and I have many great memories from races there I went to as a kid with my parents,” Hornish offered. “Some of the best days of my childhood were spent there. It’s a track where I have definitely attended more races as a fan than as a driver. Growing up just down the road in Defiance (some 70 miles south of the track in Ohio), MIS is a special place and always will be.”
Sunday’s race will mark Hornish’s seventh Sprint Cup start on the lightning-fast 2.0-mile MIS oval and he is certainly looking forward to the opportunity.
“After running all the races at Michigan during the 2008 through 2010 seasons, it will be great to get back in a Cup car there on Sunday,” said Hornish. “We participated in the Goodyear tire test on the Monday after the Indy race (the July 29 Brickyard 400) in the 22 car and it felt great to be back behind the wheel of a Cup car there. I’m thrilled to be able to drive the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge at MIS in Sunday’s race.”
Hornish is coming off an impressive weekend of racing on the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International road course in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Hornish won the pole and finished third in last Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and followed it up with an impressive fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series battle.
Sunday’s outcome at Watkins Glen was Hornish’s third career top-five finish in Sprint Cup competition and his first since the Aug. 16, 2009 Carfax 400 at Michigan. In that race, Hornish started 14th and finished fifth in the No. 77 Penske Dodge with current Penske Racing Competition Director Travis Geisler serving as his crew chief.
With Hornish running third in the Nationwide Series points and poised to have a serious shot at the series’ points title, he will remain in Montreal focusing on the task at hand there through the conclusion of Saturday’s race. The first time he will climb aboard the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge will be on Sunday morning on the starting grid at MIS.
“We’ll have Parker (Kligerman) behind the wheel for all the practice and for qualifying,” said crew chief Todd Gordon. “I have worked with him on several occasions and I am confident that he can do an excellent job in getting our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team as prepared as possible for Sunday’s race.
“Sure, we’d rather have Sam in the car for all the practice and qualifying, but the logistics of getting him back and forth were impossible,” Gordon said. “We had the foresight to take advantage of the Goodyear tire test at Michigan several weeks back and put Sam in the car there that day. It will definitely pay dividends. We can look at it now as Sam’s ‘happy hour’ of practice.
“It will be another case of relying on our teammates to help us out with the race day setup that we put in the car for Sam. What we have seen so far in the five races with Sam driving our car is that what he likes is very…very…close to what Brad (Keselowski) likes. That is a huge bonus and should make what we’re up against this weekend a heck of a lot easier. If you had to choose a track where you had to start at the rear of the field and maybe had the worst spot on pit road, Michigan would definitely be the overwhelming choice.”
Hornish’s Sprint Cup record at MIS boasts the one top-five finish (and top-10) in six races to date. Hornish has a 25.3 average start and 22.7 average finish in Cup competition at MIS. He has led seven laps to date and has an impressive 99.6 percent (1,198 of 1,203) lap completion average.
Hornish has started three Nationwide Series races at Michigan, with his sixth-place finish there in the June event highlighting his stats. He made his stock car debut in the June 15, 2007 ARCA RE/MAX Series Michigan 200 at MIS where he won the pole and finished second. In six IndyCar starts at MIS, Hornish’s second-place tally in the July 27, 2003 Firestone Indy 400 rates as his best finish in that series. He dominated that race, leading 126 of the 200 laps and was leading until Alex Barron used a sling-shot move at the finish to cross the line only 0.012 seconds ahead of Hornish.