Nationwide title could redefine Hornish's future
November 12, 2013, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com
Before Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick settle the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, two other titles will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend.
One should be a slam dunk. As soon as Matt Crafton takes the green flag in Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200, he’ll be the new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.
The race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is far less clearly defined. Austin Dillon holds an eight-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. in what has been a hotly contested up-and-down battle all season long.
Dillon is a former truck series champion who expects to graduate to NASCAR Sprint Cup next year in a car owned by his legendary grandfather, Richard Childress.
Where Dillon’s career is following a blueprint, Hornish’s future is anything but certain. Where Dillon will race for a championship trophy in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, Hornish will race for a title and everything that comes with it, including the possibility of a stock car ride for next season.
Team owner Roger Penske doesn’t have a concrete opportunity for Hornish in 2014 and has given the 34-year-old driver from Defiance, Ohio, the OK to shop around for a solid situation. Thus far, Hornish has no announced plans for next year, though the former IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion would prefer to remain in NASCAR.
"I’ve always been a person that never says never, but I’m pretty well focused on trying to continue to make my way and to make this work on the NASCAR side of it," Hornish said after running fifth this past Saturday at Phoenix.
"The level of racing here, the amount of talent and the way that these races are run is extremely appealing to me, because I feel like it commands me to work harder to be a better driver and a better person. We’ll have to see how everything plays out."
A championship certainly would help raise his visibility. And more than simply considering a title as validation of his NASCAR career, Hornish wants to seize the opportunity in front of him.
"I feel like I want to win the championship, because at this point in time, I don’t know what the opportunities for me to win another one will be," Hornish said. "So you’ve got to go out there and work hard to try to get the best finishes and the best opportunity, but I don’t feel like it completely validates it.
"I feel like this last year has shown something that I’ve known for a while, and it’s just me being able to back it up with the results. We don’t have as many wins as we’d like to at this point (one this season, at Las Vegas), but I feel like being able to go out there and race against top level Sprint Cup guys and to race the way that we did throughout the season … I feel pretty good about that.
"So I’ve got my head held high on that one, and we’re going to continue to work hard to try to figure out how to continue to be in this sport as long as I can."