Sam Hornish, Jr., led for nine of the 200 laps in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 after starting at the back of the field.
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- At one point in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400, Sam Hornish, Jr., found himself in the front of the pack.
In fact, the Defiance native was even the lead dog in that pack, in first for nine laps of the 200-lap race at Michigan International Speedway, a benefit of a cycle of drivers who made pit stops during green-flag racing.
As the pack thinned out over the course of the race, and drivers had to re-situate themselves through four cautions in the final 63 laps, Hornish finished 12th, a week after finishing fifth at the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen on Aug. 12 at Watkins Glen International.
"Not a bad day," Hornish said. "By the midpoint of the race, we were running in the top five. I ran there for quite a bit. We just got off on our strategy and that kept us from getting the finish that we wanted.
"Man, it was like whatever you seem to have, you don't get enough of, but there were too many restarts there and we just couldn't move forward. You get by one guy and then all of a sudden, three guys behind you have a run on you."
Consider that Hornish began the day at the back of the pack, a penalty that the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge garnered because Hornish did not drive in Friday's qualifying for the Pure Michigan 400.
Parker Kligerman qualified 17th in place of Hornish, who finished second Saturday in the Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 in Montreal, then shuttled Saturday night to Michigan so he could drive Sunday.
In six Sprint Cup starts since he replaced A.J. Allmendinger, who was suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR's substance-abuse policy, Hornish's best finish came last weekend on the road course at Watkins Glen.
Hornish hoped that momentum might carry over to the two-mile oval at MIS, a track where he grew up watching IndyCar racing, and then drove on when he competed on the open-wheel IndyCar circuit.
"Obviously, I wanted a top-ten at the beginning of the day," Hornish said. "We didn't get it but I'm real proud of the guys that work on this Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger. I was super-happy with the way the car was handling, and it's the best car I think I've ever driven here since the first time I came here in the Cup series.
"It's a shame we have to wait until next year to come back. Hopefully I get the opportunity to be here in the Cup series."
FROM THE BACK: In addition to Hornish, three more drivers started at the back of the field in Sunday's race. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who went to the back of the field after having to use his backup car, finished fourth.
Aric Almirola, who also started from the back of the field for using his backup car, finished 20th.
Jimmie Johnson, who went to the back because of an engine change, completed 195 of 200 laps and finished 27th.
SMASHED: Mark Martin, who won the pole Friday in Pure Michigan 400 qualifying, led for 54 of the race's first 70 laps.
Coming out of the fourth turn on the 64th lap, Bobby Labonte lost control of his car and skidded backward, missing Kasey Kahne's car but catching Martin, who spun off the track and careened into the end of the wall on pit road, missing a nearby television cameraman but destroying the right side of his Toyota.
"I don't know," Martin told ESPN, when asked what happened. "[The] 47 [Labonte] got turned around there and we got jammed up."
Kahne finished third behind winner Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski and somehow avoided the brunt of the start of the collision.
"The 47 and the 42 [Juan Pablo Montoya] were crashing, and Mark was in there so I slid into it," Kahne said. "It was going so fast, there wasn't a whole lot you could do. I slipped through the [infield] grass and thought it destroyed my car."
ULTIMATELY, HE DROVE: Reports circulated Sunday morning that Ryan Newman considered not driving the No. 39 WIX Chevrolet because of an unspecified illness, and Stewart-Haas Racing had Dave Blaney and Scott Riggs on standby in case Newman was not available.
"I'm actually better now than I was getting into the race car," Newman, who finished eighth, said Sunday after the race. "I think adrenaline takes over for most of that part."