NEWTON, Iowa — Sam Hornish made it look like he never left the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Sunday afternoon at Iowa Speedway, putting on a Father’s Day clinic as he led 183 of 250 laps to score the win in the American Ethanol e15 250.
Subbing for the injured Matt Tifft in Joe Gibbs Racing’s potent No. 18 Toyota, Hornish started from the top spot after polesitter and teammate Erik Jones was relegated to the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments prior to the start, proving for much of the day that his car was the fastest one among the cornfields of the Hawkeye State.
He and fellow JGR teammate Daniel Suarez traded the top spot for most of the day, combining to pace all but five circuits around the .875-mile oval, but it was Hornish who took command following a restart at lap 140 and never looked back. The recent substitute teacher and three-time IndyCar champion led the final 111 laps in succession and beat Ty Dillon to the finish line by 1.444 seconds for his second career Iowa XFINITY victory.
He also extended his series record for laps led at Iowa to 506 in scoring his fourth series win and first since 2014, when he also won at Iowa driving for JGR.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hornish said as he fought back tears in victory lane. “It doesn’t get much better than this. … I have to thank everyone from Toyota and Joe Gibbs racing for getting me out here and giving me this opportunity. I’ve got my wife and kids here — this is the first time the kids have ever gotten to be here for one of dad’s wins — so it’s real special.”
“I can’t put into words what this means to me. I worked so hard to try and get a win when I had my kids here. … I was so nervous on Friday, getting into the car and thinking ‘I’m gonna make a mistake,’ and to go out there and win the way we did is amazing. This is one of the best wins I’ve ever had; I can guarantee you that.”
The win by Hornish is JGR’s ninth win in 14 series races this season, with five different drivers (Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin and Hornish).
The battle to the finish was set up by a caution 10 laps past halfway, when Blake Koch went skidding through the frontstretch grass after contact with Brendan Gaughan. Suarez was the leader at that point, and led the field back to green on lap 140 from the outside lane, but Hornish was ready and shot through turn one on the bottom to grab the lead as Suarez was left to deal with Dillon, Brad Keselowski and others.
Hornish would run away by as much as three seconds at times, but a yellow with 58 laps to go after Drew Herring sent J.J. Yeley spinning in much the same way as Koch and Guaghan got together sent the leaders down pit road for their final round of service. Hornish won the race off pit road to maintain his lead, while Suarez dropped to sixth with a slow pit stop.