NEWTON, Iowa — Sam Hornish Jr.’s NASCAR Nationwide Series countdown at Iowa Speedway nearly followed a perfect path.
Mathematically speaking, anyway.
The part-time Joe Gibbs Racing driver — who finished second, third or fourth in his previous three races at the 7/8-mile track — dominated Sunday, leading 167 laps en route to an all-smiles triumph in the Get to Know Newton 250 presented by Sherwin-Williams.
“I just couldn’t be happier right now,” the driver of the No. 54 car said.
Hornish pulled away from his only stern competition, Coors Light Pole sitter Ryan Blaney, on a lap 229 restart and celebrated his third career series victory.
Fort Kent driver Austin Theriault finished 15th in his first Nationwide race. Theriault, 20, qualified 17th for the race and had climbed into ninth place before the last restart.
Theriault drove the No. 5 Chevy Camaro for the JR Motorsports team.
Blaney excelled in long runs, led 80 laps, but settled for second.
“I felt like if we had maybe 15 more laps I might have been able to get to him, but it would be tough to get around him,” said Blaney, who won a 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa. “But like I said, we just needed to have a little more short-run speed and we might have had something.”
Regan Smith, who hasn’t finished outside the top 10 all season, took third, with points leader Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
But none of these three drivers were able to interrupt Hornish’s or Blaney’s hold on the lead, which spanned all but three laps.
“Would have liked to have one more caution in there, to see if Ryan and Sam maybe would have gone down and moved each other up the track and we could have capitalized,” Smith said. But a good day.”
Elliott nurses a narrow two-point lead over both Smith and Sadler in the point standings and survived two slow pit stops to notch his fifth top-five finish of the season.
“Just a lot of catch up,” Elliott said of his day in general. “Once we got some laps on the tires, we were OK, I thought.”
As for the pit road issues…
“Hopefully we can have those fixed before next week,” the recent high school graduate said.
Hornish noted that past near-misses at Newton helped steer him to Victory Lane this time in a race marked by five cautions.
“It really hammered into my head exactly what I wanted out of the car and each time I’ve come back it’s been able to get a little bit closer to that, a little bit more of that,” he said. “That’s one of those things that takes a little bit of experience.”
Hornish, 34, is slated to run five more races for Gibbs this season, with enhanced opportunities possibly lurking on the horizon.
And he’s OK with that.
The uncertainty Hornish faced in the offseason, coupled with the abbreviated schedule, allows him to “pay back” his wife, Crystal, who in February gave birth to the couple’s third child, son Sam III.
“She wanted two kids, I wanted more than that and we’re at three now,” Hornish said. “So I’ve got to be there to help out. I look at it as, each time I get in the race care is a blessing, but on the same hand, each day I get to be at home and do things with them — I think yesterday, my 3-year-old cut a big hole in her mom’s shirt, so I was glad I wasn’t at home. But on the same thing, I know that those are moments that you don’t get back.”
And, like he said, he couldn’t be happier — as a part-time driver, and closer to full-time dad.
“I’d rather be part-time in this car than full-time in a lot of (others),” Hornish said. “And this is why.”