News & Media


Double-duty weekend means hurdles for Hornish

August 04, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Penske Racing driver to race cars in two circuits, in two states in two time zones

LONG POND, Pa. -- Sam Hornish Jr. couldn't have picked a more hectic weekend for his first as the regular driver of Penske Racing's No. 22 car.

Hornish took over the ride for the foreseeable future this week when driver AJ Allmendinger was fired in the wake of a failed random drug test, stepping up from the interim role he had filled since his predecessor was first suspended July 7. That means the Penske driver will pull double duty across two series, states and time zones -- given that his Nationwide car races at Iowa Speedway on the same weekend NASCAR's premier circuit competes at Pocono Raceway.

"I feel like we've got some really good opportunities here and [I am] just trying to maintain everything and not get stressed out about it, because that's not going to help anything. Just enjoy it. "

--SAM HORNISH JR.

"I just really enjoy the fact that I'm getting the opportunity to do it," Hornish said. "It's kind of a lot on my plate this weekend. I'll close my eyes and sleep for a little bit on the airplane to try to catch up."

Hornish and Kurt Busch are each competing in both races, but these days the latter driver seems to have more at stake. Hornish was a regular for Penske on the Nationwide tour before he was called into emergency duty on the Sprint Cup side, and he currently stands 28 points behind leader Elliott Sadler in the race for that circuit's championship. He's also trying to make a statement toward possibly landing the ride in the No. 22 on a full-time basis next season, making every lap pivotal for the former open-wheel star. His 16th-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was his best in his current vehicle thus far.

"I feel like the way things have been going, we've been steadily progressing," Hornish said. "Hopefully before too much longer, we'll be running well enough that they'll want to keep us in there for the foreseeable future. I feel like we've got some really good opportunities here and [I am] just trying to maintain everything and not get stressed out about it, because that's not going to help anything. Just enjoy it. Something good happened to me at the end of last season -- we got the opportunity to go full-time Nationwide racing, and we're doing pretty good over there. Now we've got the opportunity to go Cup racing, too, so just trying to take both things and run with it and enjoy it as best I can, because it's a good feeling to be in a little bit of demand."

This weekend, though, that demand brings with it some logistical hurdles. Hornish practiced the No. 22 car at Pocono on Friday, posting the 18th-fastest time of the final session. He then planned to jet to Iowa Speedway to get in as much practice as he could in his No. 12 Nationwide Series car. Then it was back to Pocono late Friday night, Cup qualifying Saturday morning and up in the air once again -- this time for Nationwide qualifying and the 8 p.m. ET Iowa race. Hornish planned to fly back to Pocono immediately after the Nationwide event for the 1 p.m. ET start of the Pennsylvania 400 on Sunday.

That's four trips halfway across the country -- in case you were counting -- but the driver doesn't seem to mind. It probably seems simple compared to his rushed flight at Daytona last month after Allmendinger was initially suspended, which Hornish trotting onto pit road just minutes before engines had fired. And all that air time and seat time will be good practice for another split weekend coming up in two weeks, when the Sprint Cup tour races in Michigan while the Nationwide circuit is in Montreal. That journey will also involve clearing international customs.

But first, Iowa.

"We're probably going to give up 30 minutes of track time at both places with practice," said Hornish, "But, outside of that, as long as everything goes to plan, we're not going to miss any drivers' meetings or anything like that, and [it gives] us an opportunity to qualify and to start where we qualified at. It's a great opportunity to be able to do that. Not all weekends like this work out to where you can be able to do that to go to two place that I really enjoy racing at. And [to] be able to run both of them, and feeling like we can start where we qualify at, is a good feeling."

For Penske, the routine is -- well, routine. Competition director Travis Geisler said Hornish's schedule this weekend is similar to one teammate Brad Keselowski used when he competed in both events in 2010.

"It's something that we've been through before, and I think we're really fortunate to have a lot of really great people around us to help support and make this doable and to make it very smooth," he said. "... I think it's going to be pretty smooth, actually, is what I'm predicting. Obviously they'll be a lot of little things along the way, but we're down to figuring out what kind of food we need to have where for him and making sure that we have all the right stuff, just trying to make it as comfortable as possible. Obviously, Sam is going to be in a heck of a lot of race cars in lot of different places in a short amount of time, so we need to try to do the best we can to be able to make it work for him. I'm excited about it. I think it's a unique challenge, [although] it's not one that I've been through. You never know what you're going to get in this business."

Predictions aside, there are still contingency plans. Forecasts call for a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday in Newton, Iowa, where the Nationwide Series venue is located. Although Penske developmental driver Parker Kligerman is in Pocono competing in the Camping World Truck Series event Saturday, Geisler did not specify who might be on call should Hornish get stuck in the Hawkeye State. If Hornish qualifies the No. 22 car, Kligerman would need approval from Sprint Cup director John Darby to be in the seat for the race, even though the Truck Series regular is already cleared for 2.5-mile facilities like Pocono.

"We've got contingency plans for contingency plans for contingency plans," Geisler said with a smile. "We're pretty much down to the next option is me, I think. Obviously. you try to think of all those scenarios of everything that can go wrong; everything that can happen. There are a few that can make it really, really difficult that we'll have to deal with. You know, everybody is trying to be as prepared as possible and to have the options kind of laid out. We're all hoping for the best, and if it goes that way I feel like it can be a pretty reasonable, smooth weekend. Otherwise it'll be a forest fire, and we'll try to put it out and we'll figure out a way to put it out. That's what we do."

Should weather dictate a decision, which event would be a priority for Hornish? Geisler indicated it might be the Nationwide race, given the driver's status in the title hunt. "The championship, after last week, things got pulled to within 20-some points," Geisler said. "That's a pretty reasonable margin that anybody really right now has a good shot at that Nationwide championship, and I think we're in as good a shot as anybody, so we've got to stay focused on that, and Sam needs to stay focused on it. So that's certainly a priority of ours."