NASCAR: Sam Hornish Jr. runs high-efficiency

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 19, 2014 

This season at least, less means more for NASCAR driver Sam Hornish Jr.

As in less races but more productivity.

Hornish is already three races into his seven-race Nationwide Series schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing and he has a victory and three top-five finishes to show for it.

Hornish will attempt to make it four consecutive top-fives in Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (2:30 p.m., ABC).

Despite finishing second in the series standings at the end of last season, Hornish was left without a full-time ride at Team Penske. The part-time schedule with JGR – which has one of NASCAR’s most successful Nationwide programs – was his best available option at the time.

“I just feel like the opportunities that I’ve been given this year, I’m really blessed to have those,” said Hornish, a former IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion.

“I’ve gotten to do a little bit of testing and they’ve given me good cars. Everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing has really been super nice to me so far and I’m glad that we could come out and have another good day at Michigan.”

Hornish, 34, decided long ago his future in racing would be in NASCAR and continues to work toward securing a full-time ride, preferably in the Sprint Cup Series.

“I’ll be looking at a shot for a good Cup ride until I hang up my drivers’ gloves,” he said. “I enjoy my time with my wife and my family and if I’m going to be away from them, I want to be able to have an opportunity to win a race.”

So far, mission accomplished this season.

Hornish finished fifth in his JGR debut at Talladega, Ala., won the race at Iowa last month and was runner-up to winner Paul Menard last weekend at Michigan.

The runs so far this season at JGR stand in start contrast to Hornish’s Cup career, where he earned just three top-five finishes in 131 career starts since 2007. He led just 71 laps in his Cup career – he has already led 170 laps in three Nationwide races this season.

Hornish said he didn’t regret his time in the Cup series with team owner Roger Penske and came to understand some distinct differences in how teams operate in IndyCar and NASCAR.

“There were things I could have done better in my first three seasons for Cup that I did for those guys. But you can be the best driver, but you have to have all the right pieces – the right crew chief, the right car chief, all the things,” he said.

“The part that intrigues me the most about NASCAR racing versus anything else I’ve ever done is it requires you to have the right people around you. Yeah, you’ve got to be a good driver, but there’s so many other pieces to the puzzle. You can’t take care of them all yourself.”

Hornish said his goal is to remain in NASCAR and hopefully obtain a full-time ride with a competitive team in Nationwide or Cup.

“That’s where I want to be so I’m probably a little choosy at this point in my career,” he said. “But I also know what my objectives are to go out there.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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