|Sam Hornish deserves his shot.|
His career includes championships in the World Karting Association (U.S. and Canadian Grand Champion and U.S. Junior Grand Champion), 1999 Rookie of the Year honors in the Toyota Atlantic Series and three championships in what is now the IZOD IndyCar Series (2001, 2002 and 2006). His mantle also includes a Borg Warner Trophy, emblematic of winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
And yet, Hornish continues to wait for his shot at NASCAR stardom.
Since turning his attention to stock cars with Penske Racing in late 2006, Hornish has struggled to achieve at a consistently high level. A handful of Sprint Cup starts in 2007 produced little success, but the former IndyCar champion was nonetheless promoted to run a full season in NASCAR’s senior circuit the following year. Some thought that promotion to be premature, and the former IndyCar champ struggled badly in NASCAR’s senior series before eventually going back to the NASCAR Nationwide Series to refine his craft.
He claimed his first career NASCAR win at Phoenix late last season, and the 2012 Nationwide campaign has been a breakthrough of sorts for Hornish. He has contended for both race wins and the Nationwide series championship, running among the Top-4 in points all season. Until last night’s crash (caused by a cut left-rear tire) last night at Richmond International Raceway he was riding a streak of 12 consecutive Top-10 finishes.
In addition to his Nationwide exploits, Hornish has filled-in admirably for the suspended AJ Allmendinger, guiding Penske’s Shell Pennzoil Dodge to three Top- 12 finishes in his last four starts, including a fifth at Watkins Glen.
And yet, when it came time to name a permanent replacement for Allmendinger, Penske Racing chose Joey Logano, relegating the pride of Defiance, Ohio, to 11 more weeks of “interim driver” status and yet another season of Nationwide competition in 2013.
|Hornish is a Nationwide title contender|
”I’m not happy about (the decision), I can tell you that much,” said Hornish this week. “But at the end of the day, it’s not my decision to make. It’s my job to go out there and do the best I can do, and let other people make the decisions.”
“Sam has done a great job for us, picking up where we needed to go from Daytona onwards,” said Penske Racing President Tim Cindric. “I think we continue to see him grow in his abilities as a Cup driver, working with (crew chief) Todd Gordon and the guys (and) I think we'll continue to move forward.
“He's going to continue to drive the 22 car for the remainder of the year,” said Cindric. “We've continued to work on putting a (2013) 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.
Cindric said Penske Racing’s “first preference” is to field a third, full-time Sprint Cup Ford for Hornish next season. However, only “a couple of races” have been sold at this time, and it’s getting late in the year to assemble a new team from scratch.
So Hornish, at least for now, will continue to wait.
At age 33, there is still time for him to make it to NASCAR’s biggest stage, and to succeed there. There are worse fates for a racer than a full-time, title-worthy Nationwide program will a well-funded team like Penske’s, and in truth, another year in the Nationwide trenches could serve Hornish well.
Eventually, however, Hornish deserves another shot at the NASCAR Spring Cup Series; a real, legitimate shot, with top-notch equipment and the experience needed to succeed.
That time is coming, and it’s coming soon.