News & Media

Spotlight: Hornish in game of hurry up and wait

October 12, 2011, David Caraviello,

Hornish optimistic he will run for the Nationwide title in '12, but nothing finalized

After five seasons of essentially racing every weekend, Sam Hornish Jr. got a chance to play daddy this year. Although it happened because of an unfortunate turn in his driving career -- Hornish is competing in just a part-time Nationwide Series schedule that will total 13 races -- the former Indianapolis 500 champion made the best of having so much time at home with his two young children.

"I really enjoyed having time to spend with them," Hornish said. "I think, I don't know how they're going to do when I go back full-time racing. But I don't know how I'm going to react any more. I'm spoiled being able to spend a lot of time with them, and still be employed as race car driver ... I know this is a really special point in their lives, and I feel like whatever happened this year was going to be well worth it, even though it was frustrating. If I do get back to racing full time, I'm going to really cherish having this year. Yeah, it wasn't exactly what I wanted at the time, but it sure turned out to be a lot of fun."

"I'm spoiled being able to spend a lot of time with them, and still be employed as race car driver ... I know this is a really special point in their lives, and I feel like whatever happened this year was going to be well worth it."


Hornish and his wife Crystal have two daughters, 3-year-old Addison and baby Eliza, who celebrates her first birthday in December. Next year, if Hornish gets his wish, the whole family might be hitting the road. The Penske Racing driver is hoping that some strong outings in his limited schedule this season may have helped lay the groundwork for a potential full-time bid for the Nationwide Series championship in 2012.

Getting back into a full-time ride is the immediate goal for Hornish, who endured three trying seasons at the Sprint Cup level before the loss of his car sponsor led to the move toward a limited Nationwide slate. He hasn't been in the car much this year, but when he has, the results have at times been promising -- seventh at Richmond, sixth at Nashville, fifth at Chicagoland. That despite a pit crew that's had some difficulties, to the point where car owner Roger Penske is cobbling together some members of his Sprint Cup crews to work with Hornish in his next scheduled start Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The goal there is to try for a race win, rather than a top-five finish. It all makes Hornish wonder what he might be capable of in the same kind of equipment over a full Nationwide season.

"I look at running against the guys that we've had to race against on the weekends we've run, the guys who are running for the championship, and I feel like we've been able to be competitive with them, or beat them. And I feel like if I could do that, I'd be capable of running for the championship," he said.

"In all reality, my plan for next year is to be full time in the Nationwide Series. We don't have anything in concrete right now, but I feel good about what we've been able to do, and I feel like we can run for a Nationwide championship. I feel like the cars are getting better, and the people working on the cars are getting better. It all makes me look forward to next year. First things first, we have to get the paperwork done. Alliance Truck Parts has been doing really good as our sponsor, and I'd like to think they'd be able to move forward with us. Obviously, we don't have anything where we can make any kind of announcement yet. We don't have it done. I'm just trying to be cautiously optimistic that everything is going to come together for us."

Hornish has been doing fuel-injection and superspeedway testing for Penske's Sprint Cup program, and has three Nationwide races -- Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead -- remaining on his schedule this season after Charlotte. Ultimately, Hornish wants to return to NASCAR's premier series, where Penske has become more well-rounded given the successes of Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. But first things first.

"This whole year has been about knowing that Alliance wants to go full-time racing, the people over here on the marketing side want to be able to do that, and it's just, how do we get to that point?" Hornish said. "Roger wants to go full-time racing with me, and I think he has the same goal that I have, to get back to the Cup Series. But I think he also knows we have to take the steps that are manageable at the time."

Even so, the limited Nationwide schedule Hornish has undertaken this season has helped remind him of what it feels like to be competitive again. He remembers watching his television interview after his fifth-place finish at Chicagoland, and thinking he didn't look happy. And why should he have been, given that he had a car capable of winning the race? For a driver who was one of the best open-wheel pilots of his era before making the jump to NASCAR, they were mixed but welcome feelings.

"I feel like it's done a lot for my confidence," Hornish said of this season. "Also, getting to sit there and see how well the Cup team has been able to function this year, and how well Brad's been able to do, the more I can go out and the closer I can run with him and guys like Carl [Edwards], the better it makes me feel about what I'm doing. Obviously, that's what I want to do. I don't have any other goals in racing other than running full time, first of all, and hopefully at some point getting back to the Cup Series. If I'm going out there and having good runs, hopefully I'm keeping up my end of the bargain. If we can get the sponsorship we need, hopefully we can get back to that point."

It hasn't always been easy -- after five years of wall-to-wall racing, Hornish said having so much down time makes him feel lazy. Racing is his job, and not being at the race track hurts. Still, there have been those moments with his daughters, moments he might not have been able to savor as much if he'd been on the road. He prefers to think about the positives, and the future.

"It's been a little tough to sit there and watch everybody," he said. "But there have been some things I've definitely learned this year by being able to sit back and watch, so you have to take the good with the bad. I've gotten an opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family at home, so I try to focus on the positive parts of things. I've really had a lot of fun doing some of the things we haven't had the opportunity to do in quite a while, but obviously I wish we could run a little bit more at the race track."