Sam Hornish Jr. is a fulltime competitor in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition and is ineligible to earn Sprint Cup driver points. That certainly hasn’t stopped him from accumulating his fair share of car owner points, however.
“It really hit me there at Loudon over the weekend of just how much progress we’ve made since Sam was named our driver for the remainder of the season,” said Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon. “Just since he was there driving for us in the July race, it’s easy to see what a great job he has done and how we’ve been able to mesh as a very respectable bunch.
“NASCAR parks the team transporters in the garage area based on where you stand in the car owner points,” Gordon said. “During the first race there back in July, we were parked way over there on the back side, just down from the ‘go-or-go-homers’ and the ‘start-and-parkers.’ This time around, we had advanced all the way over to the other side with the fast guys. We were ahead of both Ganassi teams and parked by the 20th-place team (the No. 31 car of Richard Childress Racing).
“Our approach is that Penske Racing has one team out there with two cars,” offered Gordon. “With where we are in the season, our priority number one is to do whatever we can to help our teammates win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Brad (Keselowski), Paul (Wolfe) and all the guys over on the Miller Lite ‘2 car’ are our team players who are on the big stage. Our job is to contribute all that we can in helping them claim the big trophy when we get down to Homestead in November.
“We’re there to help in every way we can,” Gordon explained. “Like last weekend at Loudon, we ran multiple qualifying runs with (Dave) Blaney in the car trying to help Paul and the guys. Paul and I talk all the time. He will tell me, ‘Here are some things that we’d like to see,’ and we’ll get after it to get him that information.
“Brad has personally asked us to run a certain setup and see what we have and we do it. We’re all in this together and enjoy working with each other. The really neat thing is that Brad’s and Sam’s preferences of what they like in their cars are so close that it simplifies everything. It’s a great situation of two groups giving everything they can in a total team effort.Here
“While that’s the big push, we still have our own goal over here on the 22 side, too,” said Gordon. “We want to get as far as we can up the ladder in the car owner points eight races from now. That battle will never get the headlines and we know it. All the focus is on the Chase like it is every year. But it’s important to all of our guys. It’s a pride thing and it’s our challenge for the rest of the season.
“When Sam was designated as our driver for the remainder of the season, the goal then was to at least get back up to 20th in car owner points. We’ve bumped that up now to shoot for even higher – to get all the spots we can.”
With Hornish behind the wheel, the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team has made up four spots and 53 points in their pursuit of reaching their initial goal. Entering this weekend’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, the 22 car (with Walter Czarnecki as owner) trails the 31 car (Richard Childress) by only six points in the battle for the 20th spot in the standings.
Of course, the major big-picture goal as far as car owner points go is making the top 35 in the standings. Ending the season in the top 35 exempts a car from having to qualify for the first five races of the following year. The value of that locked-in status could be as much as $1 million to $1.5 million it is estimated. The 22 car currently has a whopping 457-point cushion in that regard.
“Those are our goals again this weekend at Dover – to help Brad, Paul and all the guys with the 2 car all we can,” said Gordon. “We also want to keep having the solid runs of our own and continue moving on up there in the car owner points.”
Hornish, Gordon and the Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be utilizing the “PRS-826” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Dover. This is the same car that Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski drove in the May Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In that race, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge started 24th and finished fifth. Keselowski’s team also utilized this Dodge Charger in the August Michigan race, where they started 19th and finished second. The chassis has been sent back through the Penske Racing shop and updated with the latest components and adorned with the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil color scheme prior to its return to action this weekend at Dover. The “819” chassis will serve as the backup this weekend. It was the car that AJ Allmendinger drove to a second-place finish in the April Martinsville race and served as the backup at several races including Atlanta.