2012 was a season of ups and downs for Sam Hornish Jr. Starting his 7th year with Penske Racing this season, Hornish is patiently waiting for his turn to get back in the Sprint Cup Series. After winning the 2006 IndyCar Series Championship with Penske Racing, Hornish’s third in the series, he started transitioning to stock cars.
In 2008, Hornish took on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head on with a full schedule. With his best finish being 13th and losing the Rookie of the Year battle to Regan Smith, his debut was less than spectacular. 2009 and 2010 saw improvement in the Cup car, but not enough for Penske to keep him in NASCARs top series. In 2011, he was moved to a partial Cup and partial Nationwide Series schedule.
When 2012 came around, Hornish found himself the driver of the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge for Penske with no Cup races on his schedule. His sole focus was to win the Nationwide Series Championship and he was going to do his best to do just that. Midway through the season, fate had other ideas. Shortly before the July Daytona race, Hornish received a call; Penske needed him in the No. 22 Cup car after AJ Allmendinger failed a drug test.
Hornish stepped up and drove the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil for the rest of the season, all while keeping his eye on the Nationwide Series Championship. Many thought that Hornish would inherit the ride full time in 2013, but Penske had different plans, they hired Joey Logano instead. Fans quickly voiced their opinions, thinking Hornish deserved the ride. Even former Penske driver Rusty Wallace argued that the Logano hire was a mistake, and that Hornish should have gotten the job.
Hornish told NASCAR.com that receiving the news that he wouldn’t be behind the wheel of the No. 22 like “sticking a knife in there.” He went on to say that Mr. Penske always has been very loyal to him.
“I want to do things in the right way, and I feel like if we win this championship (in 2013), that would be great,” Hornish said. “I feel like there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do that.”
With news that Hornish didn’t get the Cup ride, Hornish received offers from other teams, but leaving Penske racing isn’t Hornish’s style. He continued to run for the 2012 Nationwide Series Championship, finishing and respectable 4th in point standings.
“…I had a choice to make,” Hornish said. “I could sit there and be upset about it and depressed, or I could go on and try to finish the year good. I could try to take care of my teammate (Brad Keselowski) and help him out any way that I could for the rest of the season, and that’s what I did. There was nothing I could do to change it at that point and time. The only thing I could do was go out there and make myself look bad.”
Hornish is back in the Nationwide Series this season in No. 12 Ford for Penske Racing and is looking like a favorite for the Championship. Roger Penske believes in his driver and only wants the best for him, starting with new crew chief, Greg Erwin.
“…I can tell you one thing: we’re going to give you the best car and the best crew chief we can to run in the (Nationwide) Series this year,’” Penske told NASCAR.com. “The goal, I said to him … is to win the championship. Not second or third, it’s to win the championship. I think he’s got the tools and the ability to do it now.”
So the question is, can he do it? With two time series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr now in the Cup series, Hornish has a good shot. He needs to focus all of his energy into the Nationwide Series and not worry about a Cup ride. If he can do that, a full-time Cup ride will be calling his name soon enough.