Sam Hornish Jr. marks NASCAR return with Xfinity win
Sam Hornish Jr, (18) and Daniel Suarez (19) lead the way at Iowa Speedway on June 19, 2016. /
Getty Images for NASCAR
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When Matt Tifft was sidelined by a back issue, Joe Gibbs Racing turned to NASCAR veteran Sam Hornish Jr. to drive its No. 18 Toyota in Sunday's American Ethanol E15 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Despite Sunday's race being Hornish's first NASCAR race in 2016, he showed the race team it made the right choice and repaid for the opportunity with a dominating performance that turned into a race win. Hornish led 183 laps of the 250 that made up the race.
"It's so great to be here," Hornish said." "I just stayed positive through the offseason."
Joe Gibbs Racing claimed the top-three starting spots in qualifying, led by Erik Jones, who claimed the pole. Jones, though, had to drop to the back at the start of the race because his team illegally modified the car's body as it sat on the starting grid. Jones quickly raced up to the top-10, but a fuel pick-up issue just before a lap-40 competition caution resulted in a green-flag pit stop. Jones wound up off the lead lap and never recovered.
Hornish and Jones, meanwhile, were up front for the start and remained up front throughout the race. Suarez led the first 23 laps before Hornish took over on lap 24. Suarez led a total of 62 laps throughout the race. Combined with Hornish's dominance, the JGR duo of Hornish and Suarez led all but five laps of the race. The other two lap leaders were Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brennan Poole. Wallace led four laps under caution after staying out while everyone else pitted. When the race returned to green, Poole led a lap before Suarez retook the top spot.
No driver managed to pass Hornish on the race track. Once he took the lead on lap 24, Suarez was able to retake the lead by getting off pit road ahead of Hornish, but a few laps after the restart, Hornish would get back to the top spot. After a few pit stops that resulted in lost positions, Hornish inherited Jones' pit crew for the remainder of the race.
"When you strap into a JGR car, you know you have an opportunity," Hornish said.
Neither Hornish nor Suarez ran lower than second before the series of yellow-flag pit stops just past the halfway point of the race when Wallace stayed out and a handful of other drivers took only two tires. Suarez dropped outside the top-two of the running order again with a slow stop during a caution with just under 60 laps to go.
When the race restarted for the final time inside the final 30 laps, Ty Dillon restarted next to Hornish on the front row, while Elliott Sadler and Brad Keselowski lined up in the second row. As Hornish pulled away and others battled for second, Sadler lost spots, dropping outside the top-five by the finish. He wound up sixth at the checkered flag.
Dillon and Keselowski battled for second, with Dillon getting the position. By that point, Suarez had moved back up to fourth, ahead of Alex Bowman. Finishing the race in seventh through 10th were Justin Allgaier, Poole, Wallace and Ben Kennedy.
"A little disappointed," Bowman said. "Thought we were better than that."