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Sam Hornish Jr. had minutes to spare. Called to drive in his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season on short notice, Hornish flew from North Carolina to Daytona Beach, Fla., then sped from the airport to Daytona International Speedway, arriving on pit road in time for the National Anthem prior to today's Coke Zero 400.
Hornish finished 33rd as Tony Stewart won the 160-lap race. Hornish was as high as 14th in the field but after the 80th lap, Hornish spun out as he came out of Turn 2 onto the backstretch. The back of his car was torn up, but the official cause was reported as back tire problems, as Hornish’s back left tire and back left fender were torn apart.
"I wish that we would have gave an better finish today," Hornish told TNT. "I was pretty comfortable in the car and I was just trying to make it to the end, and ended up puncturing a tire and it came apart on us while we were trying to get to pit road."
The Defiance native and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner replaced A.J. Allmendinger in the 43-driver lineup. Earlier this afternoon, NASCAR announced that it had temporarily suspended Allmendinger, who had failed a random drug test administered last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Allmendinger’s “A” sample came back positive and per NASCAR’s rulebook, Allmendinger had 72 hours to request his “B” sample be tested.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, declined to answer any questions regarding Allmendinger at a press conference prior to the Coke Zero 400.
Penske Racing released a statement regarding Allmendinger and the driver change, which put Hornish in the back of the field.
"NASCAR notified Penske Racing this afternoon that AJ Allmendinger was administered a drug test earlier this week, and those results tested positive," Penske Racing said in a statement. "NASCAR has a strict drug testing program that Penske Racing fully supports. Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps. Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 22 car in tonight's Coke Zero 400."
Prior to Saturday’s start in the Coke Zero 400, Hornish had made one Sprint Cup start this season; he finished 19th at the STP 400 April 22 at Kansas Speedway.
Hornish finished 10th in Friday's Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway but there was one problem: after the Nationwide race, Hornish left Florida for Charlotte, N.C. Less than a day later, Hornish's flight left Charlotte for Daytona a little more than an hour before the start of the Coke Zero 400.
If Hornish was delayed, Penske arranged for Kenny Wallace to take the place of Harvick in Allmendinger’s Dodge, despite the fact that the car had already been fitted with Hornish’s pedals, seat and steering column.
"It's really been a whirlwind since we were notified, and we really just needed to get Sam back to Daytona," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric told the Associated Press. "We spoke briefly with AJ before he left, and we agreed we'd talk when we get back."