Seconds helping in title fight

rpm_g_hornish_kh_200 For a race car driver, finishing second is sometimes the hardest pill to swallow, though this is not always the case.

Sometimes a second can be as good as winning. Well, almost. Like so many things in life, it always comes down to  circumstances.

Through 21 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, our Penske Racing No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts/Wurth Ford        has finished in second place five times. That means that we have been runner-up in nearly one quarter of our races.

If you were to add up the amount of time we finished behind the leader in those five races (excluding Daytona, which finished under caution), you would come up with 3.079 seconds. Think what 3.079 seconds might mean to you over four separate days at work in four different states. To us, they mean the difference between winning and losing.

As of the writing of this blog, our most recent second place was at Watkins Glen. That was an example of a second-place finish that genuinely stung.

We led practice, we earned the pole and then we finished behind our Penske Racing teammate, Brad Keselowski. On one hand, it was exciting for the team and definitely good for Brad, but for the No. 12 team, it was kind of a letdown.

After having the fastest car all weekend in practice, scoring the pole by three-tenths of a second and then coming up short of the win, it was certainly bothersome. A situation like that can eat at you longer than most people will admit.

Looking at it as I write, the next second-place finish before that was just one race earlier, and again we finished behind Brad. On that one, we missed the qualifying setup, and we started back in 14th. To start that far back and then race our way up to second on a fast-driving short track like Iowa was actually pretty good. Again, that was another Penske 1-2 finish, and that is always special for the whole team.

Before that, it was the Chicago race. We were fast in practice. We started on the pole. We led a bunch of laps. We were leading the race with 22 laps to go when a blown engine brought out the caution flag. On the restart, our teammate — this time it was Joey Logano — got past us and went on to win.

That was another example of a frustrating second-place finish. The thing that makes it hurt is that we had a car capable of winning. On most days, a second-place can be a small victory, especially in a series as tough as the Nationwide Series. But on those all-too-rare days when you know you have a winning car, second just is not acceptable.

Going back to the Fontana race, it was another second-place finish, but then we didn’t have the fastest car. We led some laps and traded theSamHood lead with Kyle Busch, but over the closing laps of the race, our car wasn’t handling quite like I needed it to and we finished second. It was a good race, and we felt OK about the finish.

It all started in Daytona, our first second-place finish of the season. At the superspeedways, it is always a roll of the dice. It actually comes down to surviving the race until the final restart most of the time. We managed to survive, and we were pushing Tony Stewart on the last lap.

It felt like we were in a position to take a shot at the win, but we were passed coming off of Turn 4 by Brad as he was pushing Regan Smith, and then those two wrecked in front of us. I was lucky to finish second in that one, and it was a decent start to the season.

Of course, it is good to remember that, when the green flag waves, we are racing to win that race, but at the same time we are competing for a championship. That is the ultimate goal.

When you look at the championship picture, the fact is that, in all of those second-place finishes, we were the highest-placing Nationwide Series regular. Looking at it from that perspective, you then realize how valuable those finishes were.

I was speaking with our team manager, Jeff Swartwout, after Watkins Glen, and he reminded me, “No one remembers who won the battles, they remember who won the war.” Or, as I told our crew chief, Greg Erwin, “Second isn’t fun, but it will get the job done.”

Now here we are well into the second half of the season, and we know where we are and what we have to do. Sure, we want to win, but five more second-place finishes would not be all that bad in the big picture.

Until next time, thanks for reading and take care.

From: NASCAR Blog by ESPN

Sam Hornish Jr. drives the No. 12 Ford Mustang for Penske Racing. He will share his thoughts on and off the track with ESPN.com readers periodically this season. Follow him on Twitter @samhornish and on Facebook.

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