BROOKLYN, Mich. — When Sam Hornish, Jr., spun out in the opening laps of his first Nationwide race in nearly a month, he didn’t even think about the possibility of his day ending early.
“My first thought was, ‘I sure hope nobody hits me,’ ” the Defiance native said. “I got really lucky that nobody did. After that, I thought, ‘well, I know we’re going to move our way back up toward the front.’ We’re going to tighten up the car a bit, and we’re going to get a little extra TV time because of it.”
During the course of the Nationwide Ollies Bargain Outlet 250 on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Hornish moved into contention, cracking into the top five with less than 45 laps left. When he saw the race leader head to pit road in the final laps of the race, he knew he was in contention for a win.
Race leader Joey Logano headed to the pits with five laps left because of a flat right rear tire, opening the door for Paul Menard and Hornish to finish first and second. Pole winner Kyle Busch finished fourth, behind Menard, Hornish, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“When Joey had his issue at the end, I thought, ‘man, I wish I could have held [Menard] off,’ ” said Hornish, who won the Nationwide Get to Know Newton 250 on May 18 at Iowa Speedway. “I don’t know how all of that would have worked out. There’s times when you can go out there and race your guts out with somebody and both of you stay exactly where you’re at, but sometimes you think better of it and they get a run on you and get by you, and then you can work together and try to work your way up.
“It was for the best that I was following Paul there for the first 20 laps of that run. We might have been able to catch him there at the end, but catching him and passing him is a whole different thing.”
Hornish finished second in his first NASCAR race at MIS since June of 2013. He finished 32nd in the Nationwide Alliance Truck Parts 250 because of mechanical problems caused by debris from a wreck on the track, which went into the car.
Driving a seven-race Nationwide schedule this year for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hornish has finished first, second, and fifth. He also drove in place of Denny Hamlin in the Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 in March in Fontana, Calif., finishing 17th.
After Saturday’s race, Hornish didn’t rule out returning to driving full-time. And he didn’t rule out continuing as a part-time driver. He enjoys the time he’s been able to spend with his wife and three children this season, and is in search of what he believes would be the best opportunities to win races.
But he found what he savored about being at MIS this weekend.
“It’s just being able to be at the race track,” Hornish said. “I’ve been racing professionally for 15 years and overall I’m getting ready to finish my 24th year of racing. I’ve been so used to being at the track over the course of my life span that when I’m not, there’s a little bit of a sense that you’re not quite there. To be able to be back and be in this experience and also to be doing it at a place that means so much to me, being so close to home, I couldn’t ask for much more.”
CROSSOVER: Menard, Earnhardt, Logano, and Busch were four of five full-time Sprint Cup drivers to compete in the Nationwide race. Kyle Larson finished eighth and Logano 16th.
Menard occasionally runs in Nationwide races but is particular about the tracks he chooses, whether it’s close to his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., or in an area that is a strong market for his family business, the home-improvement store Menards. Menard also looks at Nationwide driving from a competitive standpoint.
“We pick some races where I feel like we can win it and where I feel like we need a lot of work at,” Menard said.
Brian Scott is sixth in Nationwide points standings and has driven in five Sprint Cup races this season.
“It’s difficult competing against Cup guys everywhere,” said Scott, who was fifth on Saturday.
“Driving Cup races, it’s a huge benefit to me and my team in the Nationwide Series, the added track time, driving something with more horsepower, and you actually figure out the grip threshold.
“And I can see the benefit it is for those guys, and they’re the best and most experienced guys. It’s tough to beat them.”
BIG SCREEN: A new Sprint Vision video screen debuted this weekend at MIS, an 18-foot-by-32.4-foot high definition screen located near the pit entrance. The screen will travel across the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, visiting every track except Texas and Charlotte. The new video screen is part of an effort by Sprint to enhance the fan experience at Sprint Cup events.