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Smack: Is Hornish's sub role good or bad for career?

July 12, 2012, , NASCAR.com



Smack: Is Hornish's sub role good or bad for career?
Other topics include: Shortened races and Logano's wild-card chances

1. Penske Racing is using Sam Hornish Jr. to fill in for suspended AJ Allmendinger for a second straight week. Is this substitute role potentially damaging to Hornish's championship hopes in the Nationwide Series?

Joe Menzer: Hmmmm. You would think the extra seat time might help him, not hurt him. Of course, the cars aren't the same. But I guess with him never having done this type of double-duty very extensively before, it's more likely to do harm to the Nationwide hopes than actually help them.

Jarrod Breeze: Not in the least. In fact, it may be a boon. The guy has to be full of confidence at the moment. He's made the Nationwide Series a four-driver race, and now he has a golden opportunity in front of him. I think he's ready to take advantage of that, while continuing to put the heat on the top three in Nationwide Series points.

David Caraviello: I feel bad for Sam, in a way, because of how he got rushed into that No. 22 car with absolutely no preparation on Saturday night. No practice laps, no chance to hydrate on a very hot day, starting from the back. Really, he did all he could just by getting there, and it's not his fault the tire blew. Hopefully with the right preparation, he'll do better this week at New Hampshire. But, as with any driver, I worry about a split focus -- which will be the case for Hornish for another week at least.

Joe Menzer: I think Sam had plenty of time to hydrate for the race during the flight down to Daytona. But yeah, overall that was a tough task for him and he did about as well as could be expected before an event out of his control led to the 33rd-place finish. It used to be the guys who pulled the double-duty were asked about how the Nationwide race on Saturday helped their Cup chances on Sunday. The consensus from the likes of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards always was that it did. But I'm not sure if the same is true in reverse.

David Caraviello: Jarrod, I hope you're right. And, I'll grant you, Sam has a ton more experience in the Cup cars than maybe he gets credit for, and I think this Nationwide season is reminding people of what he can do behind the wheel. But still ... if this goes on for a while, and Hornish is the long-term solution, what becomes the focus? The Cup car, that's what. Shell/Pennzoil isn't paying for that thing to run in the back, and Sam wants to get back to the Cup level. Not saying he won't hang in there in the Nationwide title chase, but I can't see it being his emphasis, either.

Sam Hornish Jr.

Career Stats
RacesWT-5T-10LapsLedAvg. Fin.

Jarrod Breeze: Sam will be racing for another full-time ride in his fill-in capacity. It's not like Allmendinger was setting the world on fire in that car, so I think Hornish has a little wiggle room to work with. And his sudden burst in the Nationwide Series shows that he is capable of wheeling a stock car. Maybe he just needed a second opportunity. Goodness knows others from his discipline of racing have gotten more rope.

David Caraviello: Joe, hydrating isn't pounding a few Coors Lights in the Man Cave. It's kind of an all-day process for a race that long and that hot. Of course, you should know that from your extensive triathlon experience. And by "triathlon," I mean darts, pop-a-shot and cornhole.

Jarrod Breeze: Joey Logano seems to be coming on in the Sprint Cup Series, and he's basically pulling double-duty. Maybe it will work out in the same vein for Sam, too.

Joe Menzer: No one can beat me in a Man Cave Olympics. Oh wait, you did once, Caraviello, but I think you spiked my Coors Light. Or maybe I just didn't hydrate enough beforehand. As far as Logano, Mr. Breeze, he's been stout in the Nationwide Series for a long time -- and he's had trouble transferring it over to Cup until very recently. My point is he's been doing it a long time, and he isn't running a full-time Nationwide schedule any longer.

David Caraviello: Yeah, for all his youth, Joey has been a late-model hotshot for a very long time, so it's not an apt comparison. Of course, Sam does want to get back in Cup and he's clearly game for this. If AJ is out of the 22 at the end of the season -- for performance reasons or otherwise -- Hornish would be the natural guy. So, maybe we can look at all this as just a warm-up for next year, if things break that way. Still, it's cool seeing him in contention for the Nationwide title, and I hope he can keep that part of it up.

Jarrod Breeze: I just like this situation for Hornish ... maybe that's why he struggled so mightily before. He never raced a full Nationwide season before getting a full-time Cup gig, so going in reserve seems to be doing the trick. I think the guy is ready to break out, on both fronts. And before you jump all over me, I don't mean break out in Cup in terms of being a Chase contender, but at least in the 11-20 wild-card category. There's a lot of room there.

Joe Menzer: JB is bullish on Mr. Hornish. It would be a great story if he's right. My guess is that he's wrong.

David Caraviello: JB, I'll give you that the saving grace here is perhaps that the 22 really hasn't been that good before now, so there might not be a lot of pressure to show drastic improvement. But I like watching Hornish succeed on the Nationwide tour -- he's a good guy, and easy to root for. And we all remember how painful some of those days were for Sam on the Cup tour. Basically, I'm hoping we don't see that again -- wedged into a team as a replacement driver in a car that hasn't been all that good this season ... and struggling again. We've seen that movie and know how it ends.

Joe Menzer: I see it as being far more likely that the Nationwide effort may suffer because of this, and that he'll struggle to get a grip on a Cup team and car that are relatively unfamiliar to him.

David Caraviello: Which is a lose-lose scenario, Joe, and something nobody wants to see happen.

Joe Menzer: But in the long run, yes, it could help Sam get ready to drive that car more competitively in Cup next year.

Jarrod Breeze: And let's keep this in mind, Sam still has a ways to go to catch Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the Nationwide Series standings. Hornish is going to need them to run into a little bad luck to close the gap considerably.

David Caraviello: I just wonder if Joe has already begun his hydration process for New Hampshire.

Jarrod Breeze: You know, the heat wave that has gripped the Midwest and South also was wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic. Could be another hot one at New Hampshire, and this is an afternoon affair. Drink and drink often, my friend.

Joe Menzer: Hey, easy guys. No one has to tell me that twice. Bottoms up!

2. In his midseason briefing with the media last weekend at Daytona, NASCAR chairman Brian France left open the possibility that more races could be shortened. Which events might be potential targets in the future?

Jarrod Breeze: Any one that ends with "500." Next question?

Races for 500, please

TrackRaceLaps
PhoenixSubway Fresh Fit 500312*
BristolFood City 500500*
MartinsvilleGoody's Fast Relief 500515*
TexasSamsung Mobile 500334*
DarlingtonBojangles' Southern 500368*
AtlantaAdvocare 500325^
TalladegaGood Sam Roadside Assistance 500188^
CharlotteBank of America 500334^
MartinsvilleTums Fast Relief 500500^
TexasAAA Texas 500334^
PhoenixKobalt Tools 500312^

Joe Menzer: Whoa, there still remains a need for the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. After that, you might be right, JB. Shorter generally is better. And I guess we're good with the Aaron's 499?

Jarrod Breeze: OK, I will give you the Daytona 500 and begrudgingly the 600, only for tradition's sake. But all the others ... let's take them to the chopping block.

David Caraviello: First of all, let's give the chairman a little credit on this -- he's smart enough to see something that's working, and at least open to the possibility of extending the same idea to other tracks. Of course, not every event needs shortening. The Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600, a 500-miler (or 499-miler) at Talladega ... those are races you want to leave alone -- for tradition's sake as much as anything else. But yes, although JB may have been joking, there's a nugget of truth there. Any other 500-mile event needs to be reexamined closely. But you do not touch the Southern 500, you hear? Do not touch it. Get away, now. Shoo.

Jarrod Breeze: And that includes any and all at Talladega. Absolutely no reason to run 500 miles -- or even 499 -- at that place, especially considering that they may run even longer given the good chance of a green-white-checkered finish. Or two. Or three.

Joe Menzer: Let's see. What has been shortened already? Pocono ... Dover ... Kansas? What else?

David Caraviello: Fontana. And, in most cases, the approach has worked.

Jarrod Breeze: OK, David. I will give you Darlington, but not Talladega.

David Caraviello: But you can't paint with too broad a brush here, fellas. Need to look at it on a case-by-case basis, really study the time of these events, television windows, and such. You really just can't say "anything with 500!" That's a bit reactionary. And Jarrod, the old Winston 500 at Talladega was once one of the crown jewels of the sport, and I'm sure the track's race distance these days is kind of an homage to that. I don't like gimmicky "499" distances, but you have to have a 500-miler there. One, at least.

Jarrod Breeze: Used to be, David, used to be. And drivers used to be good ol' boys. The fall race at Charlotte has to be on the shortening list. After 600 miles in May, we don't need 500 more in October.

Joe Menzer: I'll go along with that observation about Charlotte. Why not shorten that fall race to 400 and really make the two distances contrasting. Not a bad idea, really.

Jarrod Breeze: Thanks Joe, didn't want you disagreeing with me on back-to-back questions, here.

Joe Menzer: Well, I don't like agreeing too much with any Cincinnati Reds fan who can't appreciate Skyline Chili like he should. But you are welcome nonetheless.

David Caraviello: Atlanta is one to look at. As is fall in Charlotte, and maybe spring in Texas (with apologies to Ed Clark, Marcus Smith and Eddie Gossage, who have all just taken me off their Christmas card lists). Prime-time 500-mile events just take a very long time, and television networks only have so much flexibility. And if Daytona, of all places, can host a 500 and a 400, other tracks can, too. It's not a shot to a track's pride to have a 400-mile race. If the Southern 500 wasn't such an institution, I'd be all for tightening up that one, too. As it is, I just bring an extra bucket of chicken and a few more slices of cornbread.

Jarrod Breeze: Well, I don't think I will be getting anything but a lump of coal from Talladega, but agreed. No reason for Texas to have two 500-mile races, or Charlotte to follow up one with 600 with one at 500.

Joe Menzer: In today's era of the sports fan that has a limited attention span, it simply makes good business sense. I think it would help TV ratings and maybe even ticket sales, too, because track promoters can still make it a special day, a great event with pre-race and post-race attractions if need be, and still keep fans at their facilities buying stuff pretty much half the day and/or night. They've already been moving in that direction for years anyway.

Jarrod Breeze: Same goes for the short tracks, too. Sorry Bristol and Martinsville, but let's shorten up those races, too.

David Caraviello: I mean, look at New Hampshire. Those folks hold 300-milers, and usually they work out great. Just the right length, and now in the era of double-file restarts, no shortage of action. It's not like the fan or TV viewer thinks, "Oh, well, this race isn't a 500. No way am I going to watch." It's about what happens between the green and checkered flags, not the length of time it takes to get there.

Joe Menzer: I think the New Hampshire comment is right on. It's time to look at not only reducing some 500-milers to 400 -- but time to perhaps shorten other events to 300 miles or less. The short tracks are their own animals, and I like the 500 laps at Bristol -- but do both races need to be that long?

David Caraviello: Now, let's not get ridiculous here. I get the whole argument about shorter attention spans and folks having more going on and TV having limited windows for this stuff. But I don't want to see a halftime, or two shorter points races on the same day, or anything like that. A certain open-wheel league that will not be named tried that, and it didn't work. In fact, just the mention of it makes me want to start hydrating.

Joe Menzer: Michigan, by the way, already is 400 miles. But you could make one of theirs 300 perhaps. I do like that idea. The teams probably would hate it because strategy that worked in one race at the place wouldn't the next time around, but I think some variety would spice it up a bit. And nobody here said anything about two shorter points races in the same day, did they JB?

Jarrod Breeze: But really guys, I can sum this debate up in three little words: Dale Earnhardt Jr. As our esteemed Mr. Menzer reported way back in January, Junior was a proponent of shorter races. The people's choice has spoken.

Joe Menzer: So it has been written, so let it be done.

David Caraviello: Hydration for everyone!

3. With a fourth-place finish at Daytona, Joey Logano moved into the second wild card spot heading to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he recorded his first Cup victory. What are the odds of him holding on to it?

Sprint Cup Series

Wild-card standings
RankDriverPointsWin
14. (WC2) Joey Logano5031
15. Ryan Newman5021
16. Kasey Kahne 5001
11. Carl Edwards 5410

Jarrod Breeze: As hard as it may be to believe, considering the speculation of his premature demise in this, his contract year, I think he has a very good shot at it. He has come on strong of late, and no one seems to be able to get a good foothold on that final wild-card spot.

David Caraviello: I know there's a long way to go and a lot of guys still in the mix, but I'm starting to believe in Joey (attention Joe Gibbs Racing, there's a ready-made Twitter hashtag -- #BelieveInJoey). JGR has said they want to renew his contract, the pressure is kind of off the kid, and he had a nice run at Daytona and has some good tracks coming up. Most notably, New Hampshire and Pocono -- the sites of his two wins. And, Indy is similar to Pocono in the setup of the car. I'm beginning to think Logano might be able to stick and crash the Chase for the first time.

Joe Menzer: Joey Logano is starting to show some staying power on the Cup side this year. And when you combine the fact that he already has registered five wins on the Nationwide side while running a limited schedule, he's actually already having a heck of a year. No wonder Joe Gibbs Racing is negotiating a contract extension with him instead of giving up on him, as some of us had speculated they might heading into this year (if he didn't produce).

David Caraviello: Wait, Everybody agrees? We all must be hydrating too much.

Joe Menzer: Let's toast to Joey Logano, everyone!

Jarrod Breeze: I thought Kasey Kahne might be ready to seize control after Kentucky, and while Jeff Gordon is continuing his meticulous climb, he still needs a win. All of this is good for Joe Gibbs Racing -- not just Logano, but Kyle Busch, too.

Joe Menzer: The thing to remember about Logano is that he's still only 22 years old. His best years are ahead of him. He's only now maturing as a race-car driver and a young man. But this is an opportunity that he needs to seize. I think he'll hang on and do it.

Jarrod Breeze: And I think Ryan Newman will continue to fall. Don't know if Newman is looking over his shoulder, but I would be. If the Stewart-Haas Racing big man fired his crew chief in the middle of a Chase-winning run, then Tony Stewart might go all Donald Trump on Newman. Seems like I read that somewhere, anyway.

Joe Menzer: The best thing that can happen to Logano or any of the other wild-card hopefuls is that Brad Keselowski continues to run well enough to remain in the top 10. And I think BK will, because he's motivated to make sure the bonus points he can get for three (or more) wins count for something once the Chase begins. Last year, when BK got in as a wild card, they counted for nada.

David Caraviello: Now, this is far from said and done. The biggest threat this weekend outside of the usual suspects -- and by that I mean our last two champions, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart -- might be Clint Bowyer, who has won twice at Loudon and has a more than respective driver rating at the place. He's 10th in points and trying to stay there, and could go a long way toward sewing up a spot this weekend. And then there's Ryan Newman, who has three wins at New Hampshire and at 15th in points probably needs to make something happen between now and Richmond.

Joe Menzer: Caraviello is going all "driver rating" on us. I'll tell you who's very good at Loudon -- and that's the aforementioned Ryan Newman. So at long last I can disagree with JB. I think Newman will be strong this weekend and move up a little. I can't tell you what Newman's career driver rating is at Loudon, but I can tell you that he has six poles, three wins and has led 720 laps there in 20 career starts. The only place where he has as many wins and more laps led is Dover.

Jarrod Breeze: If it comes down to Newman and Logano, that will be interesting. They had their differences at Kentucky. Some strong words by Newman, in fact. Newman has poles everywhere. Bottom line is he just doesn't seem to be on the uptick at the moment.

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David Caraviello: You are right, JB -- I don't know how much staying power Newman has shown this year. And it's not just Keselowski all the wild-card hopefuls are pulling for -- Bowyer at 10th and with a race win is suddenly in a similar situation. But it's 31 points back to 11th-place Carl Edwards, who needs a win about as bad as anyone right now, and that's a fairly healthy margin. And, while we're at it, so is the 25-point gap between Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr. at the top of the standings. Kenseth is quietly (as usual) stretching this thing out, though he's in danger of losing it once the Chase starts if he doesn't notch a few more wins.

Joe Menzer: Newman came home fifth at Daytona, just to let you two know. Probably had a five-way Cincinnati-style chili spaghetti on the plane ride home, too.

David Caraviello: JB, didn't Newman and Logano go at it in the garage area after a Michigan race once?

Joe Menzer: Has Logano ever really "gone at it" with anyone? I remember him telling Kevin Harvick that DeLana wore the fire suit in the family and everyone -- especially DeLana -- having fun with that one. And congrats to the Harvicks on the birth of their baby boy, by the way. I think I'll hydrate to that news!

Jarrod Breeze: If Logano can keep his car clean, he's going to be tough to nudge out of that spot. A crash at Michigan and his run-in with Newman at Kentucky are his only blemishes in a solid six-race stretch that features a win and four top-10s.

David Caraviello: And, by the way, how about Jimmie Johnson and that New Hampshire driver rating of 104.6? That's a solid number right there. And, given his fitness routine, I think Five-Time might pass on the five-way chili. I'll follow his lead. It's just basically spaghetti sauce anyway. Come to think of it, I once had a temperature of 104.6 after a long night of hydrating.

Jarrod Breeze: Spaghetti should have spaghetti sauce, chili should have, well ... ask someone from Texas. Just don't ask to shorten their races.

Joe Menzer: Neither of you two deserves a five-way -- chili spaghetti, I mean. And I'm not from Texas. I'm from Cincinnati, home of the Reds, chili spaghetti with the works and cheese coneys.

David Caraviello: Forget hydrating. Now I need a Tums.