Hornish takes Iowa Xfinity win in substitute driver role

Now that’s a welcome back party.

Hornish takes Iowa Xfinity win in substitute driver role

Sam Hornish Jr., who hasn’t raced in NASCAR – or even made a pit stop – since last November, turned his last-minute Xfinity Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing into a trip to Victory Lane Sunday at Iowa Speedway.

The former IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion got the call this week to substitute for Matt Tifft in JGR’s No. 18 Toyota when Tifft was forced to sit out this weekend’s Truck and Xfinity series races to nurse a back injury.

Hornish was dominant in the win, leading a race-high 183 of 200 laps. It’s his fourth win in the series and first since the 2014, which was also with JGR and also at Iowa.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” an emotional Hornish said in Victory Lane. “Just got to thank Toyota, everyone from Joe Gibbs Racing for getting me out here and giving me this opportunity. Got my wife and kids here, it’s the first time the kids got to be here for one of dad’s wins.

“I can’t tell you what this means to me. Work so hard to try to get a win when I had my kids here. Got to thank God. He makes things happen. I was so nervous on Friday getting into the car thinking I’m going to make a mistake and man, (then) to go out there and win the way that we did. Hope Matt is doing well.

“Definitely want to thank the fans and Happy Father’s Day to everybody. This is the definitely one of the best ones I’ve ever had, I guarantee you that.”

Ty Dillon finished second, Brad Keselowski – the only Sprint Cup driver entered in the event – was third, Daniel Suarez was fourth and Alex Bowman was fifth.

“I don’t know, I guess we just needed to be a little bit better. The No. 18 (Hornish) was so dominant on the bottom (groove). I thought, obviously, we were the best car on the top (groove),” Dillon said after the race.

“Just needed a little bit more speed. I’m proud of my guys. We were kind of mid-pack car and did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position – something we talked about all week – and we did a great job.”

Keselowski, who battled from the rear of the field after being penalized for unapproved body modifications before the race, took his bumps on his way to the front.

“I think all we were missing on our Ford was hitting the pace car,” Keselowski said. “I left it all out there. I think (Hornish) and (Erik Jones) had a lot of speed – they were probably the two best cars.

"We ran third and we were probably just a little bit better than (Dillon). I kept losing the battle off pit road and that didn’t help and I couldn’t get back by him. Who knows if I could have gotten by (Dillon) – I thought maybe I could – but I never got that shot.

“We’re still trying to get this (Xfinity) program where we want it to be. We want to be a little bit faster. We’ll keep working on it.”

Before the race, NASCAR announced the cars of pole-winner Jones, Elliott Sadler and Keselowski would start the race from the rear of the field for unapproved body modifications discovered prior to the cars rolling to the starting grid.

Jones was beset by fuel-pressure issues throughout the race and at one point went to the garage to swap out fuel cells.

Brendan Gaughan and Ross Chastain also started from the rear because of unapproved adjustments to their respective cars.

Last week’s race winner, Suarez, continues to lead the series standings by 21 points over Sadler, who finished sixth.

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