News & Media

Hornish Jr. keeping head up despite bump in road

September 08, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

RICHMOND, Va. -- Sam Hornish Jr. sat on the Richmond International Raceway pit wall Friday evening, mustered a smile and offered up the ultimate positive attitude. Moments earlier, he'd turned in a very respectable 11th place qualifying run in Penske Racing's No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge -- a ride he will dutifully surrender to Joey Logano in 2013.

The team announced this week that the 22-year old Logano will come over from Joe Gibbs Racing next season, relegating the former Indy 500 winner Hornish, 33, to another full-time Nationwide Series season next year instead of the full-time shot at the Cup level he had hoped for.

"The toughest part is everybody wants to talk to me and try to cheer me up or ask me how I feel about it ... or tells me 'I really feel you deserve [the No. 22].' I feel the same too, but obviously that's not the way it went. "


Even before the news, it had been 'one of those weeks' for Hornish, who is contending for this year's Nationwide championship (he's fourth after a tough wreck in Friday night's race) and has impressed -- three top-12 finishes in eight races - filling in for the team's suspended driver AJ Allmendinger.

"It was a downer of a week -- a lot of things going on at home, I was a little sick, my daughter had the flu -- it was one of those weeks where it felt like 'tension everywhere,' '' Hornish explained in one of his first interviews since the Penske Racing announcement.

"It's obviously pretty disappointing, but those choices aren't mine to make. We'll keep our head up and do the best we can in the 22 car, and we're still in the hunt for the Nationwide Series championship.

"The best part was coming back out here and getting back in the race car and having two pretty decent cars to start right off.''

The hardest part for Hornish may very well be all well wishes he's received via Twitter, email and pats-on-the-back in Richmond. But it's not as if he isn't appreciative of the kind words from people.

"The toughest part is everybody wants to talk to me and try to cheer me up or ask me how I feel about it,'' Hornish said. "It's hard to go through because every time I put it behind me, someone has another question about it or tells me 'I really feel you deserve it.'

"I feel the same too, but obviously that's not the way it went. It's been a great outpouring not only by family and friends but a lot of people in the garage area and even some drivers.

"Those people don't have to say anything to me, so if they're saying something, they probably mean it. And I'm excited and grateful that they care enough to mention it. I know I've got a long time left to go here as long as I keep doing the right things.''

That's exactly the optimistic view anyone that knows the three-time IndyCar champion would expect. His teammate Brad Keselowski takes it even further -- despite readily admitting he helped recruit Logano to Penske.

"I'm a little taken aback by those that are pleading for sympathy on Sam's behalf because I think he still has got just as strong a shot as ever of getting back into a great Cup car at Penske Racing,'' Keselowski said Friday. "I think there were some other wheels in motion that probably prevented it on this time line, but you know, life doesn't always work on the time line that you want it to.

"I would say by no means does Sam Hornish not landing in the 22 Cup ride full-time mean that there is a fork in his career. I think that's the wrong approach. I think that he has a chance to continue to prove himself this year and to continue to put himself in the running for future opportunities.''

Team founder Roger Penske, as well as Penske Racing President Tim Cindric, have publicly praised Hornish's job substituting for Allmendinger, who was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on July 7 after testing positive for a banned substance.

Hornish has a storied history with the team including a 2006 Indy 500 victory and third IndyCar Series title (he has two others with Panther Racing).

He ran three seasons in the Cup series (2008-2010) for Penske, but with only modest success going straight from open-wheel to NASCAR's marquee circuit. With that came sponsorship challenges, the team decided to put him in the Nationwide Series full time in 2011.

He won his first NASCAR points-paying race last year at Phoenix and went into Saturday night's Nationwide race at Richmond third in the season championship, only to crash into a wall and end up out of the race and fourth in the points in the aftermath.

Despite improving his resume this year, Hornish said he never really had serious contract discussions with Penske or Cindric about continuing in the No. 22 next year.

"Obviously Sam has done a great job for us, picking up where we needed to go from Daytona onwards,'' Cindric explained.

"I think we continue to see him grow in his abilities as a Cup driver, working with [crew chief] Todd Gordon and the guys. I think you saw ... at Atlanta. I think we'll continue to move that forward.

"We've continued to work on putting a Cup program together for Sam; we just haven't been able to close that process yet. I foresee Sam driving for us a full season Nationwide next year and hopefully some Cup races, as well.''

The promise of opportunity and the current success in the Nationwide Series continue to motivate Hornish.

"The big thing I'm trying to do is stay focused on the Nationwide program,'' Hornish said. " It didn't work out for [a Cup ride] for me, but if we keep running the way we've been running, something's going to happen. I just need to keep my head up and keep moving forward.

"I'm going to have fun with it and not sit there and dwell on the fact everything didn't work out the way I wanted it to. All in all, it is what it is and there's nothing I can do about it now. I've got to just enjoy this, have a good run and maybe get this Nationwide championship.''