NEWTON, Iowa – Sam Hornish Jr. saw an opportunity Sunday at Iowa Speedway and he made sure to seize it.
Hornish, who is running a limited schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota, delivered a dominating victory in Sunday’s Get to Know Newton 250.
While Hornish led a race-high 167 laps, he faced stiff competition all day from Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. Hornish’s Toyota was faster than the Ford of Blaney on short runs, but on long runs Blaney was able to chase down and pass Hornish.
Luckily for Hornish, the 250-lap event ended with a short run to the checkered flag.
Blaney had just worked his way around Hornish on lap 207 when the caution flag waved on lap 213 for debris in turn one. The entire field came down pit road for fresh tires, with Michael McDowell beating everyone off pit road by taking just two tires. Blaney and Hornish followed, both with four fresh tires.
The field returned to racing on lap 219 and Blaney was able to get a big run on the outside in turn two to take the lead away from McDowell. Hornish followed him around McDowell and into second, but on lap 221 the caution flag waved again when Mike Bliss crashed in turn four.
The field returned to racing on lap 230 and Hornish took full advantage, driving around Blaney out of turn two to take the lead. Once out front Hornish was able to pull away, eventually beating Blaney to the checkered flag .797 of a second.
“We had a great car all day long,” said Hornish after scoring his third career Nationwide victory. “I am so blessed and thankful that this opportunity came around. I was hoping and praying I’d get something good to get into. It is pretty darn awesome.
“Thanks Kyle (Busch) for taking the weekend off on the Nationwide side so I could come out here and drive this car,” Hornish said.
Blaney said the his car needed a longer run if he was going to have any chance to catch Hornish.
“(We needed) short run speed. It was like that all day. He was definitely better on new tires for about 30 laps,” Blaney said. “Then he’d start coming back to us. I was way too tight on the short run to go. It helped us on the long run, we could keep driving off the corner good. I just couldn’t stay with him there on that restart and just couldn’t really get to him. Just ran out of laps.”
Regan Smith finished third, followed by his JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Talladega winner Elliott Sadler.