The last time Sam Hornish Jr. drove a NASCAR Nationwide Series car was during the 2013 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Friday night at Talladega Superspeedway, the veteran driver led a Joe Gibbs Racing charge to win the pole for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.
Hornish’s No. 54 Toyota topped the final session, followed by JGR teammates Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr. Rookies Ryan Reed, Dakoda Armstrong, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher followed the trio of JGR drivers. James Buescher and Brian Scott rounded out the top 10.
"I think it worked out well. It was really about patience, and it came to the crew chiefs holding us back a little bit," Hornish Jr. said. "We let Elliott do most of the heavy lifting in terms of picking our lines and slowing us down.
"I’m really glad it was three sessions. We almost didn’t get the job done. I think we were 21st, 22nd and 24th at the end first session, but we were one-two-three after that."
Sadler admitted that it got hairy on the track.
"It’s wild. I’m not going to lie," Sadler said of the knockout qualifying session. "We did what we wanted to do. We wanted all three JGR cars up front no matter who was first, second or third, and we were able to pull that off. Pretty successful day."
The opening session was slowed when Kyle Larson led a hard charge, trying to squeeze between Regan Smith on the high side and Tanner Berryhill in the middle off Turn 4. The hole closed up and the three made contact, sending Berryhill sliding down the track into Derrike Cope and then back up the track, head-on into the wall.
Following the incident, Smith radioed the crew saying they were done with the session, adding, "This is [expletive] insane." The No. 7 Chevrolet sustained minor damage to the left rear of the car, while Larson had damage to the right front of his No. 42 Chevrolet.
Richard Childress Racing’s Brendan Gaughan led the way in the first knockout qualifying session, followed by Robert Richardson Jr., Matt DiBenedetto, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott.
Points leader Chase Elliott was never able to get a strong run in during the first knockout session, as the JR Motorsports cars surprised many with their poor qualifying efforts. Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet qualified 40th, while teammates Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith qualified 32nd and 33rd, respectively.
The first five cars didn’t hit the track to take time in the second session until there were six minutes remaining. Once the rest of the field took to the track, it was the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Wallace Jr., Hornish Jr. and Sadler — who topped the speed charts.
The RCR cars of Ty Dillon and Brian Scott were in danger of being knocked out of the final round, but a late-session charge bumped both cars into the top 12.
Advancing to the final session were Wallace Jr., Hornish Jr., Sadler, Scott, Dillon, Gaughan, James Buescher, Dakoda Armstrong, Chris Buescher, Landon Cassill, Ryan Reed, and Ryan Blaney.
Chad Boat and Derrike Cope were the only two cars that failed to qualify for Saturday’s race.