FORT WORTH, Texas -- For all intents and purposes, Sam Hornish Jr.'s rather comfy lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship went up in sparks in the Turn 4 wall of Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.
A collision with Jeremy Clements with 57 laps remaining sent Hornish's dinged up No. 12 Ford down pit road for repairs four times and then ultimately for the garage for a lengthy lookover. Hornish's Penske Racing team still managed to return him to competition in time to salvage a two-point advantage over seventh-place finisher Regan Smith as the circuit heads into an off-week.
But it was a tough lesson and a championship equalizer.
"I guess I could have given the 51 (Clements) more room, but I figured he knew I was out there, that his spotter would tell him,'' Hornish said on pit road watching the replay during an ESPN post-race interview. "It was one of those deals where we had fresher tires and a lot of those guys were out there sliding around. I just hate it for our whole Alliance Truck team. I'd like to play it over again but I can't.
"It was frustrating for sure, but at the end of the day, the guys worked hard to get the car back out there.
"The car was good, we just didn't have the right strategy and it kind of put us in the back and things happen.
"We're up by two (points) and it's better than being behind by 28, so we'll just keep our heads up and move forward.''
His 34th place showing marked the first time this season the three-time IndyCar champion finished worse than seventh place. He scored his second career Nationwide Series win at Las Vegas in March and has a pair of runner-up efforts and a season best four top-fives in what is widely considered his best opportunity to add a stock car title to his decorated open-wheel career.
He has led the championship since the opening week of the season -- holding a 28-point edge on Smith coming into Texas. And only Friday's winner Kyle Busch has led more laps.
Understandably with a start like that, Hornish would rather there not be any off-weeks. The Texas race came after an off-week and instead of taking a break next week, Hornish and his full Nationwide team will be attempting to run the Sprint Cup race at Kansas.
"We didn't want to take a couple weeks off there, we were pretty happy with how we were running,'' Hornish said with a smile.
"I like that we'll still all be working together (at Kansas) and all the guys that work on this car will be at that race so it will give us an opportunity to work on our communication in a longer race where some of these other guys are going to be off for a weekend. We'll look at it like a big practice event.
"The good thing is there won't be any cooling off, we'll actually be out there working together so I'm looking forward to that then on to Richmond which is one of my favorite tracks.
"It was a frustrating night and we wished we would have done better but we had a good car and things just didn't work out our way. As long as we keep putting together cars like this we're going to have more wins, more top-three finishes.
"We've just got to try to build the points back up.''
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