Hornish finds perspective even with '14 in limbo
September 26, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Talent, focus and adaptability have served Sam Hornish Jr. well during a racing career that includes three IndyCar titles, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 trophy and now the championship lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
But it may be perseverance that Hornish needs most right now as he hopes to turn a potential championship season into the right opportunity in 2014.
In a wide-ranging and introspective interview with NASCAR.com this week, Hornish spoke of his persistence and will to overcome the latest obstacles in a hard-earned, hard-fought NASCAR tenure that is on the verge of paying dividends.
Hornish holds a 15-point edge in the Nationwide Series standings over Austin Dillon entering Saturday's 5-Hour Energy 200 at Dover International Raceway. But even with the impressive title run -- 21 top-10s in the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford -- with only six races remaining in the 2013 season Hornish does not know where he will be racing in 2014 or for whom.
Although he said he'd prefer to stay with his longtime team, Penske Racing, many believe the team is planning to field the No. 12 car in 2014 for last week's race winner and team development driver, 19-year old Ryan Blaney.
Hornish is rumored to be atop the list of candidates for some potential, if sparing, Sprint Cup Series rides and Penske President Tim Cindric has even publicly offered to help Hornish toward a Cup ride elsewhere if need be. But Hornish said he'd prefer to do another full season of Nationwide racing -- specifically, competitive Nationwide racing.
"Roger (Penske) told me if they find the funding to do the things we want to do, I'm the guy," Hornish said. "It's not that I'm not doing the things I'm supposed to do.
"We'll see how everything plays out over next couple months. If they don't find the funding necessary it's not really through a fault of my own. It's not that the sponsors on our car want to go somewhere else. It's just economics."
Instead of the uncertainty distracting Hornish from the title run, he says it's more motivation. It certainly may be the difference-maker in his immediate future.
"First and foremost is making sure we're doing the best of our ability to win the championship and taking care of it on my end," Hornish said.
"In my opinion, if you're looking for a job, at least you're leading the championship, so that's the upside to the whole story. The toughest part about it for me is not the act of going through all this, but of answering questions. I don't know any more than you guys (in the media) know."
If push comes to shove, Hornish said he'd rather be in the right situation part-time, than the wrong situation full-time.
"Not that I want to sit out any part of a season, but 2011 was a good year for me because of all the things I did away from the track and also I learned a lot I was able to put to good use these last two years," Hornish said.
"I don't want to do it again and if things don't work out the way I want them to, I'm not going to give up. But I also don't want to put myself in a bad situation so I'm more than willing to maybe have to watch more racing than I'd like to in order to give myself the right opportunities.
"Last year I wasn't where I wanted to be at the beginning then I got to run a half-year in the Cup car [Penske's No. 22.]
"I just have to be smart about it because the goal for me isn't just to be around, but to have something I can be competitive in."
Hornish chuckles, anticipating the next question he so often gets. No, he still has no desire to return to the IndyCar Series he dominated in a six-year run between 2001-2007, when he collected 19 wins and 46 podiums in 108 starts.
Penske Racing recently announced it had hired another former open-wheel NASCAR convert, Juan Pablo Montoya, to its IndyCar program in 2014, something that Hornish insists wasn't too surprising.
"A lot of people are like, 'just come back to IndyCars' but it's not on my agenda," Hornish said. "Roger has given me that option before to go back but he knows my stance on it. It doesn't help my end goal to go back. I did this because I want to be successful running stock cars.
"He knew what my answer was going to be therefore he didn't ask the question. In the past, when we've talked about it, he hasn't gotten the interest for me."
And so the perseverance, drive and focus that helped the former go-kart champ from small-town Defiance, Ohio get his first big break in professional racing is being summoned again.
It hasn't been an easy road in stock cars for Hornish, who left numerous IndyCar Victory Lanes only to struggle at the Sprint Cup level before turning experience into results in the Nationwide Series the past two years.
It's all taught Hornish to be philosophical and remain positive even as he acknowledges circumstances haven't afforded him the chance to cherish this championship run as he might have imagined.
"But this is life and when things were going very good for me on the IndyCar side, I wanted to challenge myself again," Hornish said. "It seems like every time I overcome an obstacle over here, I'm faced with another challenge.
"That being said, this continues to live up to what I wanted it to be. Is it the exact way I wanted it to play out? No. But there's a plan in store, whether it's how things are supposed to be or continuing to mold me into the person I'm supposed to be.
"I'm not going to be Sam Hornish Jr., the race car driver for the rest of my life. I do believe a lot of the trials I've had have made me into a more well-rounded person and makes me appreciate my family all the more.
"As opposed to a couple years ago, even though I'm not able to enjoy this as I wished I could, I know in my heart I can do it if given the right opportunities, where I don't know if I had that confidence two years ago.
And he added, "I have so many things to be positive about. I am a man of faith and think maybe there's a reason why this particular thing didn't work out or maybe it's part of the test. You can ask for anything you want to, it doesn't mean you're going to get it.
"But I've been doing this too long to give up.
"There's a lot of good things happening and we've still got a great opportunity, who knows, maybe the money will come around to stay at Penske, maybe it won't. I've got so many things to be thankful for and that includes the people at Alliance Truck Parts, to give me the opportunity to believe in something and bring it into fruition and compete for a championship."