Hornish Jr. making most out of limited schedule
June 14, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- In most sports, when an athlete is away from his craft for weeks at a time, a bit of rust can be expected when he or she steps back onto the playing field, court, or, in NASCAR's case, gets back behind the wheel and onto the race track.
Then again, NASCAR isn't just another sport. And Sam Hornish Jr. isn't just another driver.
Last season's Nationwide Series runner-up, running a partial schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 54 and No. 20 teams, has proven through his first three races this season that rust just isn't a factor when he gets back out there. The veteran has finished fifth (Talladega), first (Iowa) and now second in Saturday's Ollie's Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway, coming in fresh to every race and making the most of his opportunities to win in some of the fastest cars the series has to offer.
"I just feel like the opportunities that I've been given this year -- I'm really blessed to have those, so the fact is that it’s not really a knocking off the rust thing," said Hornish, 34. "I’m at the shop every week talking to whether it's Kevin (Kidd, No. 20 NNS crew chief) or Adam Stevens (No. 54 NNS crew chief) -- whoever I happen to be racing for that week, I'm talking to them and I'm trying to figure out what we’re going to be doing or even the things that I saw that happened or asking questions about what they felt like needed to be better. I feel like I'm keeping from being rusty by the amount of things I'm doing as far as that."
Rust or not, Hornish did have to overcome an early race spin that forced him to work his way back from the tail of the field. If you want an example of Hornish's obvious veteran savvy at work, watch a replay of his spin -- it's not a coincidence that he kept his No. 20 Sun Energy 1 Toyota out of harm's way on one of NASCAR's fastest tracks.
Hornish said he's also done a bit of testing and the added track time is clear. That said, he fully acknowledges the superior Toyota Camrys that the JGR shop supplies him with every week have just as much to do with his ability to compete for victories each time he goes out as his actual driver ability.
Still, for a driver who very much hopes to once again sit in a full-time, competitive Sprint Cup Series ride -- he was full-time with Team Penske's Sprint Cup Series program from 2008-10 -- his limited 2014 results certainly aren't hurting Hornish Enterprise's stock value.
"I'll be looking at a shot for a good Cup ride until I hang up my driver's gloves, but I feel like at this point in time I continue to -- the best way I can put it without sounding too spoiled -- is that I enjoy my time with my wife and my family and if I'm going to be away from them I want to be able to hopefully have an opportunity to win a race and so far in the three races that I've been scheduled to do this year we’ve got a win and a second and a fifth," Hornish said.
"I feel like it’s productive when I’m away from home and away from my family and I’ll keep continuing to try to put myself in rides, even if I have to be part-time.
"My overall goal is to be in something full time that I can compete for wins in whether that's on the Nationwide side or the Cup side. That's where I want to be so I'm probably a little choosy at this point in my career, but I also know what my objectives are to go out there. I don’t necessarily need to have 'driver' beside my name, I just want to have the opportunity when I do go out there and drive to win races."