NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Sam Hornish Jr. won three IndyCar championships and an Indianapolis 500 before fading into obscurity as a NASCAR driver.
Sunday’s victory in Iowa will undoubtedly rank among the most memorable moments of Hornish’s career.
Hornish, just six days after accepting an offer to race for the first time in 2016 in the vaunted No. 18 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, led 183 of 250 laps for a dominant win at the NASCAR Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway.
Hornish picked up his first win in two years, which also came at Iowa’s 0.875-mile oval. But Sunday was the first time Hornish’s three children were able to see him win, fittingly on Father’s Day.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me. I worked so hard to try to get a win when I had my kids here,” Hornish said.
Hornish was briefly pushed by Ty Dillon and Brad Keselowski on a restart with 27 laps to go. But Hornish held on to the outside groove for his fourth career Xfinity series win.
Dillon was second, followed by Keselowski, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.
Pole sitter Erik Jones had issues with the No. 20 car all afternoon, finishing 27th.
Hornish was called out of semi-retirement on Monday and asked to fill in for developmental driver Matt Tifft, who was dealing with a back issue.
Despite not racing for roughly seven months, Hornish made the most out of the fastest car in the series.
Much of the race was reminiscent of the end of last week’s in Michigan, where Daniel Suarez held off the No. 18 — then driven by Kyle Busch — for his first career win.
Hornish and Suarez kept swapping the lead, with Suarez out front for 62 laps.
But a caution following an incident between J.J. Yeley and Drew Herring drew a caution with just under 60 laps left, allowing the drivers on the lead lap to get what they needed from their pit crews for the finish.
Hornish had a strong pit stop and an equally strong push on the restart. Hornish also held the lead on the last restart, and the last 10 laps or so were essentially victory laps for a driver who lost his Sprint Cup ride after notching just three top-10s last season.
“Sam did a great job of taking an excellent car and making, at least from my vantage point, no mistakes all day,” Keselowski said. “It shows how good of a driver he is and, of course, how great of a car that is.”
Jones won the pole position on Saturday, his sixth in 2016. But he, Keselowski and Sadler were forced to start from the back of the field after unapproved body modifications were discovered when the cars were moving to the grid.
Keselowski and Sadler eventually made up for it, with Sadler finishing sixth.
But the combination of Hornish and the No. 18 was too much for anyone to catch — even with less than a week to prepare.
Hornish has two more races lined up for 2016, back in Iowa in July and in Kentucky for Richard Childress Racing.
“My wife and kids definitely support me a lot. They’ve been there for good times and bad times. I can’t say how far I am beside myself with how that opportunity presented itself, and we took ahold of it and did as much as we could with it.”