Hornish gets second chance to shine in Sprint Cup
DETROIT — It all seemed so easy, and so right. Celebrated IndyCar racer Sam Hornish Jr. would join NASCAR and be super good.
And why not? He’d been one of the best and fastest open-wheel oval drivers in the series for years.
He couldn’t miss in Sprint Cup, especially running for his former boss, Roger Penske.
Well, history has proved that being one of the great Indy pilots of the past 20 years and a 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner doesn’t necessarily translate into being successful in stock-car racing.
Hornish won three IndyCar Series titles (2001-02 and 2006) and 19 races in just seven full seasons of competition.
By contrast, in 115 Sprint Cup races since 2007, he is winless.
If you think Hornish, who was raised in Defiance, Ohio, is disappointed, he is. If you think his NASCAR dreams are over, you’re wrong.
With AJ Allmendinger nailed by NASCAR and fired from Penske Racing over a failed drug test, Hornish is back in the catbird seat at Penske — in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, which he’ll run in the Pure Michigan 400 Cup event at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn this weekend.
“I’m looking forward to running the Cup race here,” said Hornish, 33, at a Goodyear tire test at MIS on July 30. “Anytime I get to race up here at Michigan, I really enjoy that; but it’s going to be tough.”
Hornish pulled double-duty at Watkins Glen last weekend, finishing third Saturday in the Nationwide race and fifth Sunday in the Cup race. He is third in points in Nationwide, where he fields the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge full-time.
But it is resurrecting his Cup career that spurs Hornish, who lost momentum, confidence and his Cup drive when Mobil 1 withdrew sponsorship of his Penske car in 2010.
When Hornish crossed over to NASCAR, he tried hard to get up to speed quickly. He was swift, but he wrecked often.
“I expected too much of myself,” said Hornish, whose best points finish in Cup was 28th in 2009. “After winning three championships out of seven full-time seasons in IndyCar, I felt like if I didn’t succeed right away (in NASCAR), everyone was going to think I was a failure. It’s not always going to be the best day (if you finish down the grid), but it sure beats explaining why the car is tore up.”
Since returning to the No. 22 car at Daytona on July 7 after Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR, Hornish has been under the glass. He has done an admirable job so far.
“I feel like I’m going through a bit of an audition phase right now,” Hornish said. “I’ve been at the company almost 10 years. But I feel blessed, really, that I’ve had the strength to sit back and watch it all play out, with a lot of good people around me. So I’ll just try and do the best I can because you want to know what is going to happen tomorrow, but we never really do.”