Friday May 27th, 2016 12:25PM

Sam Hornish, Jr. puts JGR Toyota on Talladega Nationwide pole

By Jenna Fryer, AP Auto Racing Writer
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) - Finally, after spending the first three months of the season on the sidelines, Sam Hornish Jr. is getting back in a car.

His seven-race Nationwide Series deal with Joe Gibbs Racing starts Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, where Hornish will drive the No. 54 Toyota typically piloted by Kyle Busch.

He made the most of the opportunity on Friday, by putting his car on the pole for Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Hornish will start on the pole Saturday after leading a JGR sweep in qualifying. NASCAR used its knockout format at a restrictor-plate track for the first time this season - the session was rained out at Daytona in February - and all 12 cars in the final round waited until just about 3 minutes remained to head out onto the track.

Hornish used a fast lap to best Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr. in the JGR sweep.

That's right: After falling just three points short of winning last year's Nationwide championship, Hornish was rewarded with a seven-race deal. But Hornish isn't complaining. He insisted the JGR offer was the best one for him, and the only one that gave him both a chance to win races and potentially expand his role.

It already has in some respects - Hornish was the emergency replacement driver for Denny Hamlin at California in March when Hamlin was not medically cleared to race. More important to Hornish was the lure of working for Joe Gibbs after 10 years with Roger Penske.

He was sold on the limited schedule after speaking to Gibbs and team President J.D. Gibbs.

"When you talk about Joe Gibbs Racing after being at Penske for so long, Coach is exactly the kind of person you want to align yourself with when you are used to having those kind of expectations of people that you are around," Hornish said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"I had some other offers, not to say they wouldn't be good or they weren't impressive, there were some really good people I talked to," he said. "But when I sat down with Mr. Gibbs and J.D., it was like, I don't know if they could read my mind and told me everything I wanted to hear, but they said everything I wanted them to say to me. I knew in my heart I wanted to do it."

The way Hornish sees it, he did a limited Nationwide schedule for Penske in 2011, when he had 13 starts and scored his first series victory. He turned that season into another full-time ride with Team Penske.

Now, he hopes another door could open the same way it did at Penske.

"Seven races may not be where I want to be at, but I was in the same kind of situation a couple of years ago and I parlayed that into almost winning the championship," Hornish said.

Hornish battled Austin Dillon all last season and the Nationwide title was up for grabs headed into the November finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But a lengthy late caution hampered Hornish's shot and he couldn't overcome his points deficit.

He wound up losing the title by just three points in what he knew was his final race for Penske. The team owner had decided not to re-sign Hornish, partly because of a lack of sponsorship and partly because the organization felt it was time for Hornish to return to the Sprint Cup Series.

Losing the championship has stuck with Hornish.

"A lot of people ask me how long does it take to get over that. As a race car driver, you never get over it because whether you never win one or you win three, well, you could have won four," he said. "You are kind of greedy by nature, you always want a little more. If we were to have went out as champions, it would have probably been a little bit easier to deal with.

"But I feel like a lot of that's in the past, and I remember all the things that Roger did for me and I remember doing my best to live up to the things he expected for me. We both could have done things better along the way, but we both did some pretty good things as a group together."

WDUN will have full coverage from MRN Radio of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron's 312 from Talladega Superspeedway at Talladega, AL beginning at 2:30 pm on 102.9 FM.

NASCAR-Nationwide Series
Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, AL
Aaron's 312 Starting Lineup - May 2, 2014

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (54) Sam Hornish Jr., Toyota, 186.783 mph.
2. (11) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 186.776.
3. (20) Darrell Wallace Jr., Toyota, 186.729.
4. (16) Ryan Reed, Ford, 184.08.
5. (43) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 183.998.
6. (22) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 183.441.
7. (3) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 183.262.
8. (60) Chris Buescher, Ford, 183.007.
9. (99) James Buescher, Toyota, 182.856.
10. (2) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 182.748.
11. (62) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 182.317.
12. (01) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 182.188.
13. (98) David Ragan, Ford, 186.645.
14. (10) Blake Koch, Toyota, 185.83.
15. (25) John Wes Townley, Toyota, 185.761.
16. (44) David Starr, Toyota, 185.664.
17. (55) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, 185.639.
18. (14) Eric McClure, Toyota, 185.625.
19. (19) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 185.52.
20. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 184.459.
21. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 184.406.
22. (23) Robert Richardson Jr., Chevrolet, 173.626.
23. (46) Matt DiBenedetto, Chevrolet, 189.868.
24. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 187.54.
25. (91) Jeff Green, Toyota, 187.225.
26. (74) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 186.816.
27. (39) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 186.536.
28. (31) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, 186.503.
29. (76) Tommy Joe Martins, Dodge, 186.467.
30. (85) Bobby Gerhart, Chevrolet, 186.467.
31. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 185.294.
32. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 185.24.
33. (51) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 183.663.
34. (28) J.J. Yeley, Dodge, 183.501.
35. (93) Carl Long, Dodge, 182.644.
36. (52) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 181.967.
37. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Owner Points.
38. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Owner Points.
39. (4) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Owner Points.
40. (17) Tanner Berryhill, Dodge, 185.495.

Failed to Qualify
41. (84) Chad Boat, Chevrolet, 185.237.
42. (70) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 184.363.
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn
11:55PM ( 1 year ago )
NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedules set for 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - NASCAR announced recently the 2015 schedules for its top developmental regional touring series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
2:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Lanierland boys final: Johnson makes history with win over Red Elephants <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Ever the aggressor on the court, Johnson
8:55AM ( 1 year ago )
Pits will be tight as Chili Bowl entry count hits 316
TULSA, OK - The 29th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals presented by General Tire is on track to be a record smashing event, with the entry count climbing over the 300 mark for the first time to 316 entries confirming 303 drivers for the indoor spectacular happening Tuesday, January 13 through Saturday, January 17 at the Tulsa Expo Center in Tulsa, OK.
9:59AM ( 1 year ago )
Falcons fire Mike Smith after 2nd straight losing season
Mike Smith's status as the winningest coach in Falcons history wasn't enough to save his job. Owner Arthur Blank said he fired Smith on Monday because in his "heart of hearts" he didn't believe Smith could take the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
7:58PM ( 1 year ago )
New promoters in place for 2015 at Senoia Raceway
SENOIA, GA - Lease papers have been signed and a team of new promoters is in place for the upcoming stock car racing season at Senoia Raceway in Senoia, GA.
6:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Professional Sports
Garbo, Jr. to compete in NASCAR K&N East with Whelen sponsorship
CHARLOTTE, NC--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- When Marsh Racing and longtime team sponsor Whelen Engineering Company, Inc. got the opportunity to put together a race team for 2015, they looked closely at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
12:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Former NASCAR racer pleads guilty in high-speed chase
12:51PM ( 1 year ago )
Chili Bowl entry list again nearing record 300 mark
TULSA, OK - For the past couple years, the entry list for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals has flirted with the 300 mark. Once again, the number of teams registering for the indoor Midget event is nearing the three century mark with 285 entries received for the 29th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.
11:59AM ( 1 year ago )
Kenseth wins Homestead, Elliott crowned Nationwide Champion
HOMESTEAD, FL - Matt Kenseth took home the winners trophy in the NASCAR Nationwide Series season finale on Saturday, holding off Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson for the victory while 18-year-old rookie Chase Elliott was officially crowned as the 2014 series champion in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
11:58PM ( 1 year ago )
What comes next for Chase Elliott?
What do you do when you accomplish your goals a year early?
12:34PM ( 1 year ago )
Dawsonville's Elliott scores NASCAR Nationwide championship
AVONDALE, AZ - Brad Keselowski took advantage of a late-race caution to edge Kyle Busch for a Nationwide Series victory at Phoenix International Raceway, but Chase Elliott was the day's big winner at Saturday
6:54PM ( 1 year ago )
Xfinity Series
Basketball: Area coaches see a 'positive' change to GHSA finals move
The response amongst northeast Georgia's coaches was overwhelmingly positive following the Georgia High School Association's announcement on Thursday that it will no longer hold its annual basketball championship games in the Macon Coliseum.
7:49PM ( 7 hours from now )
VIDEO: Historic postseason brought countless top plays
This year provided perhaps the most successful overall postseason campaign in the history of the sport in this area. And we have compiled some of the best highlights involved in that campaign here...
5:05PM ( 4 hours from now )
NASCAR pushes foward more lower downforce for 2017
You didn’t need a test or a complicated data set to understand the effects of NASCAR’s trend toward lower downforce in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
12:00PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Penske the standard of excellence at Indy after 50 years
It was 1951 when Jay Penske scored a pair of tickets to the Indianapolis 500. He was an executive for a metal fabrication company in Cleveland that was sponsoring a few laps in the race, so he brought his 14-year-old son to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
By Jenna Fryer-AP Auto Racing Writer
10:00AM ( 2 hours ago )
GHSA moves basketball championships away from Macon
The Georgia High School Association announced on Thursday that it will no longer hold its annual basketball championship games in the Macon Coliseum and is moving the contests to the University of Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum and Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.
9:00AM ( 3 hours ago )