Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 9 Jacob Companies Ford team earned their second Top-10 finish of the season at Sonoma Raceway. The Jacob Companies team had a good start to the weekend, posting Top-10 times in both of Friday's practice sessions. Despite qualifying outside of the Top-20, Hornish knew the No. 9 Ford would be good for the race. And, it was. Hornish was one of the fastest cars in the final 10 laps and passed 10 cars in the final six laps to finish 10th
Hornish started the 110-lap race from the 24th position and worked his way toward the Top-20 in the opening laps. He was running in the 21st position on Lap 13 when he reported that the front brakes didn't feel comfortable enough for him to get into the turns like he needed to.
An accident in Turn 10 brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 23, giving the Jacob Companies team the opportunity to make adjustments. The crew made chassis, air pressure and front brake adjustments on the four-tire stop. With the lengthy stop for adjustments, Hornish restarted 31st on Lap 27. Just three laps later, the yellow flag waved again. This time, Manion called Hornish to pit road for fuel only. Hornish restarted 34th on Lap 34.
Hornish began to make his way through the field, breaking into the Top-25 by Lap 44 and the Top-20 by Lap 50. He gave up the 19th spot on Lap 66 to come to pit road for four tires and fuel.
After returning to the track one-lap down, Hornish raced his way back onto the lead lap just before an accident in Turn 10 brought out the caution on Lap 75. The No. 9 Jacob Companies Ford came to pit road for four tires and fuel.
The restart produced another caution, but this time, the No. 9 Ford stayed on the track. Hornish restarted 21st on Lap 85. Once again, the No. 9 Ford began to move through the field, running in the 17th position when debris brought out the caution on Lap 100. Manion made a strategy call to bring the Jacob Companies Ford to pit road for four tires, no fuel. Hornish restarted 20th with six laps to go.
He gained five spots on the restart and raced into the Top-15. In the closing laps, Hornish gained five more spots to cross the finish line in the 10th position.
It's the team's second Top-10 finish of the season. With the finish, Hornish gained one spot in the Championship Point Standings to 24th.
"All in all, I'm really happy with the effort everybody put forward on our Jacob Companies Ford Fusion," said Hornish. "With how fast we were on Friday, I was pretty disappointed with how we qualified. I thought we could've been better for about half of the race today, but we hung in there and got a good finish. We tried to play as cleanly as we possibly could today, and I'm proud of the 10th-place finish that we got. I felt like at times we were a 25th-place car, so to be able to get that much more out of it is a good day. I appreciate all the guys' hard work, and I'm looking forward to going to Watkins Glen next month. I'm a lot better there than I am here, so if we can get a Top-10 out of it here, hopefully, we can race for the win there."
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford
Aric Almirola scored his best road course finish of 14th Sunday at the Sonoma Raceway. Starting from the 25th spot, Almirola and the No. 43 Nathan's Famous team raced their own race, and it paid off. They used fuel mileage and a fast car to compete at the end. A late-race caution gave the team the opportunity to get four fresh tires and Almirola picked up four spots in the final laps to finish 14th. This was the team's ninth Top-15 and 13th Top-20 this season. Almirola is now 15th in points and just four points outside of the Chase Grid.
Almirola started the 110-lap race from the 25th spot. He raced up to 22nd before green flag pit stops began on Lap 17. Trying to run the race with two pit stops, the team waited to pit. Almirola raced into the 18th spot before an accident on Lap 23 brought out the caution. Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a four-tire pit stop.
The No. 43 restarted 24th, but just three laps later, another accident brought out the caution. Knowing they may be able to make it all the way on one more stop, Owens called the No. 43 down pit road for fuel only. Just before the green flag, the team topped off the car with fuel giving Almirola the 38th spot on the restart. He quickly worked his way forward and picked up five spots on the restart. He picked up at least one spot a lap for the next 14 laps and raced into the Top-20 when some of the field began to make pit stops.
Since the Nathan's Famous team topped off during the last caution, they stayed out on track, and Almirola raced into the Top-10 by Lap 55. He continued to race in the Top-15 as cars with fresher tires began to catch the No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford. Waiting for the fuel window, Owens called the car down pit road on Lap 70 for a four-tire pit stop.
On Lap 75, the field slowed for an accident with Almirola in the 23rd spot. Since they were good on fuel, Owens kept the No. 43 on track, and the Nathan's Famous Ford restarted 11th. Almirola raced in the Top-15 for the next 22 laps. On Lap 100, debris brought out the final caution with just 10 laps remaining. Owens felt that most teams would pit, especially further back in the field, so he called Almirola down pit road from the 14th position.
The Nathan's Famous pit crew changed four tires, and Almirola returned to the track. Five cars stayed out, so the No. 43 Ford restarted 18th. Fresher tires and a better handling Ford Fusion allowed Almirola to climb into the 14th spot before the checkered flag flew. The Top-15 finish was Almirola's career-best road course finish and the No. 43 team's ninth Top-15 and 13th Top-20 finish of the 2015 season. He is 15th in points and just four points outside of The Chase cutoff.
"Today was the first time I enjoyed road course racing," said Almirola. "We had a competitive car, and Trent (Owens) did a good job calling the race. The road course races are a bit of a wild card for us, so to come out with a Top-15 finish makes me really proud. Going into the season, our biggest goal was to be consistent week in and week out. We have done that and done it on tracks that we have typically not run very well in the past. It just shows the improvement of this race team. We have 10 races before The Chase and are sitting just outside of the cutoff right now. We'll work really hard for the next few months to put ourselves in position to make The Chase. I'm excited to head to Daytona next week and defend our race win from last year."