By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
It had been 210 days since Sam Hornish Jr. last competed in a NASCAR race. In recent months, he had been working as a substitute teacher at a school in his native Ohio. Sunday, Hornish served as a substitute driver in the Xfinity Series. Hornish drove the No. 18 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, after receiving a call to fill in for Matt Tifft who injured his back earlier in the week.
Hornish started the American Ethanol E15 200 at Iowa Speedway in the third position. However, when teammate Erik Jones was sent to the rear of the field for unapproved body modifications, Hornish advanced up to the front row for the start of the race. Another Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Daniel Suarez assumed the duty to start the race, and led the first 23 laps.
Hornish was never far behind, and took the lead on lap 24. Hornish continued to lead until just after a round of pit stops under a competition caution on lap 40. Hornish restarted in second, and just nine laps later, recaptured the lead from Suarez. Hornish went on to lead until the caution waved yet again on lap 98.
Suarez once again emerged with the lead off of pit road. Hornish worked his way by Suarez to take back the lead on lap 117. Hornish held the lead until several back-to-back cautions waved and several teams chose alternate strategies.
Hornish worked his way back to the lead just after a restart on lap 140. To help Hornish on pit road, his pit crew swapped with the pit crew of his teammates, Jones, who was multiple laps behind after a fuel pump issue. Hornish eventually held off late runs by Ty Dillon and Brad Keselowski to lead the final 90 laps and score the victory.
This is the first victory for Hornish in two years and is only his fourth career NASCAR Xfinity Series win. Hornish lead a total of 183 laps en route to his victory. Hornish is also the third different driver to take the No. 18 Toyota Camry to victory lance this season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
An emotional and almost speechless Hornish told the media in victory lane, “It doesn’t get much better than that. Just got to thank Toyota, everybody 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. I’ve worked so hard to try to get a win when I had my kids here. I have 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 to go out there and win the way that we did, I just can’t say anymore about it. Thank you to TRD. Hope Matt is doing well.”
With tears in his eyes, Hornish went on to rank this victory as one of the greatest wins of his career.
“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.”