News & Media

Hornish keeps faith in self, Penske

January 25, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Looks to parlay part-time Nationwide ride back to the Cup Series

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- When it comes to the cut-throat world of big-time auto racing, loyalty lasts about as long as a set of tires. And when Sam Hornish Jr. found himself facing a situation without a confirmed ride for 2011, few might have been surprised to see him leave Penske Racing for greener pastures.

But when Roger Penske tells you he'll make things right, chances are excellent that he will. And in Hornish's case, Penske has cobbled together a Nationwide Series sponsorship deal with Alliance Truck Parts that will put Hornish in the No. 12 Dodge for a minimum of 11 races this season, with the potential of running the full year if more money appears.

It would have been easy for Hornish to have lost faith, just as he lost his full-time Cup Series ride. But maybe coming from a place called Defiance, Ohio, plays into Hornish's character.

"People said, 'What's going to happen?' I said, 'I don't know, but Roger said that he's got something for me to do and he knows that I'm going to work hard at it,' " Hornish said Monday night during the NASCAR media tour's stop at Penske Racing. "I never had to worry about it. When Roger tells me he's going to do something, he does it. There was no reason for me to ever doubt it."

Before the Alliance deal came together, Penske gave Hornish the go-ahead to find another job. But Hornish said his options were limited.

"We talked to some other teams," Hornish said. "He gave me the opportunity to go and see what else was out there. And there wasn't anything else where I could go out and actually race. There were other teams interested but didn't have the funding to be able to do it.

"This is my eighth season with Penske Racing. I think a lot of people would kill to have eight days with Roger."

With Alliance on board for at least a third of the season, Hornish is looking at 2011 with an eye toward the future.

"We're planting seeds for the next couple of years with potential sponsors in order to get back to the Cup Series," Hornish said. "Alliance has been great. We found out about three days before the Nationwide race at Homestead that they were going to come on board and run their car there. We had a great outing there. Putting the program together, it happened pretty quick. We knew that if we meshed well, we could move forward. They jumped right on board."

Hornish has made 20 career Nationwide starts without a top-10 finish. Contrast that to three Indy Racing League championships and 19 victories -- including a thrilling last-lap pass of Marco Andretti to win the 2006 Indianapolis 500 -- and many are left second-guessing if Hornish made the right decision in leaving open-wheel at the end of 2007 to try NASCAR.

"I don't know if I'd still be racing if I had stayed in open-wheel," Hornish said. "There was a lot of things going on and I might still be doing that, I might not. It was one of those things where I wanted to try this, I had an opportunity to try something I've wanted to do since I was a kid. There might be a second thought, just because we're not in the position where we want, but there's never going to be any regret about it."

Does Hornish feel like he has something to prove?

"Only to myself," Hornish said. "I want to prove something to everybody. But the only person who needs to be happy at the end of the day is me. I know that there's been days that I could have won Cup races if the right things happened. But we never got to the point where we could do it consistently to be there all the time.

"There's been days where I've done everything right and went out there and finished well. And there's been days where I've been screwed up quite a bit. It was like that in Indy cars. I just know that there are things I could have done better."

But when it comes to his relationship with Roger Penske, Hornish doesn't hide his admiration and loyalty, a loyalty which could pay dividends for 2011 and perhaps the future.

"Roger's always been great to me," Hornish said. "He gave me an opportunity to run his Indy cars. He gave me an opportunity to come over here. I've always given 100 percent to those guys and tried to do the best I could, on and off the track.

"That's always going to be a benefit to me. Even if nothing ever goes right, just having the opportunity to work with somebody who wasn't just a hero of mine but my father's and a lot of other people. I've gotten to have a really close relationship with Roger. It's been a lot of fun. I get a little emotional about it because I remember being 11 and having a dream that Roger wanted me to come drive for him and I remember waking up, thinking, 'that'll never happen.'

"And not only did I get to drive for him, but I got to drive for him in three or four different series, I got to win races for him and won a championship. And to say he's somebody I consider a friend."