Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sam Hornish Jr.: Going for broke and racing for a ride

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray
 for Skirts and Scuffs 
This season has been one of accomplishment for Sam Hornish Jr. After running a limited Nationwide Series schedule in 2011, Hornish returned to the series full time, piloting the No. 12 for Penske Racing. Although he’s yet to return to victory lane, Hornish has earned solid finishes in nearly ever race thus far and sits fourth in points heading into Kentucky Speedway. Couple his marked improvement in the Nationwide Series with his current gig driving the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge in the Cup Series and it’s easy to see that Hornish’s NASCAR career is finally moving in the right direction.

Forward momentum in 2012

This weekend at Kentucky marks Sam’s 60th career Nationwide start. It’s only fitting this milestone comes at a track where he has seen success in the past. The three-time IndyCar champion won at Kentucky Speedway in 2003 and 2006 in the open-wheel series, but according to Hornish the only thing that translates from one series to the other is that he knows how to get to the track.

The NASCAR schedule is heavy with 1.5 mile intermediate tracks like Kentucky. Luckily for Hornish he’s not finished lower than ninth in the previous 1.5 mile races this season. Will this be the weekend the team can put together a top-five finish - or perhaps a win?

On Friday Hornish told me, “We haven't had any majorly bad races but we haven't had the race we need to help us out in the points. So we kind of go for broke at this point and maybe do a little bit better as far as trying to move forward. We've got some new setup things that we're gonna try out and make ourselves a bit better. We don't need a massive jump, we just need a couple little things that are gonna help us out.”

After Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide Series race Hornish will head to Loudon New Hampshire where he’ll compete in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series event. Although he’ll have to start from the back of the field because he missed qualifying, Hornish is happy with how his team has performed since he took over in July. Filling in as interim driver of the Double Deuce after AJ Allmendinger's suspension, Hornish has had a few unlucky moments, but he’s not letting them overshadow his accomplishments.

“When I took over, I think we were in the mid 20s in points, and we're in 20th now. I think we've got a pretty good run going, so I'd like to gain a couple more spots if we could by the end of the season.” said Hornish of his Sprint Cup efforts in the last 11 races. “We finished around 11th the last three weeks in a row. For the amount of things we've had go wrong, to be able to have those kind of finishes, I feel pretty good about that.”

Hornish credits his improvement in both series to his crew chiefs and teams saying, “I think part of the reason we've been able to do this in the 22 is based on the relationship. Todd (Gordon) kind of understands me and he's not afraid to ask me questions. Some things have gone well because I'm getting the right people around me and getting better equipment. I think that if we had these things during my first go-round in the Cup Series it would have worked a lot easier and we wouldn't be in this situation.”

IndyCar Thoughts

Last weekend saw Andretti Autosports’ Ryan Hunter-Reay win the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Championship. The first American to win the series since Hornish in 2006, Hunter-Reay edged out Penske’s Will Power to take championship. Of Hunter-Reay’s win Hornish said, “Ryan did exactly what he needed to do. He stayed out of trouble. With the way he ran that race that's exactly what you need to do. He did it exactly right. The only advice I would give him is that he knew how to get it done once so just keep following that same thing. I think he had two engine failures and got spun by Tagliani at one race. Without those problems I don't even know if there would have been any kind of battle going for the championship."

Hornish went on to say that he wishes things had worked out better for the Will Power and the Penske team and that he still has a close relationship with the guys on that side of the program.

SPEED Center

In 2012 Hornish added another line to his resume, joining the SPEED Center team providing commentary and analysis on a regular basis. A natural in front of the camera, Hornish has enjoyed learning that side of the business, but don’t expect him to hang up his helmet and take over the microphone on a permanent basis. Of his gig with SPEED, Hornish said, “A lot of it is just the repetition of being able to go in there and knowing what to expect. There's a lot going on that people really don't see. You've got a producer talking to you in your ear giving you time counts on when you gotta quit talking. Sometimes you have a point you wanna make, and you don't have enough time to say it. It's been fun to see a different side of it, and I'm really grateful to the guys at SPEED for doing that for us. Maybe there will be something with that in the future, but I still get to race for quite awhile yet."

As of now Hornish has no concrete plans for 2013. Penske Racing has said they’d like to have him back full-time in the Nationwide Series next season, but nothing is finalized. Right now he’s going for broke and racing for a ride.

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