By Joseph Wolkin – It’s not what @SamHornish wanted entering 2014, but it’s what he will take. Hornish made the tough decision to turn down offers to race full-time in either one of NASCAR’s top-two divisions as he opted to race for Joe Gibbs Racing on a part-time basis in the Nationwide Series.
It might sound crazy, but Hornish knew that it wasn’t worth it to run mid-pack in a lesser car. It would not prove anything by doing so, and now he is contending for race wins – even though he hasn’t been behind the wheel much this year.
The move is starting to pay off for the 35-year-old driver after signing a seven race deal to get behind the wheel of the No. 54 car. The car has been known as one of, if not the most dominant, in the NASCAR Nationwide Series over the past several years – winning an astonishing 17 of the past 79 races since the 2012 season began with @KyleBusch behind the wheel.
But many have been hoping he would receive some more opportunities since Joe Gibbs Racing is such a large organization. When @DennyHamlin had metal in his eye in March at Fontana, Gibbs officials turned to the Ohio-native to pilot the No. 11 Toyota in the Cup Series less than an hour before the race went green.
Hornish was impressive during that event as he ran inside of the top-15, but was shuffled to a 17th-place finish. Unfortunately, the team does not have the funding or the room to get him back at NASCAR’s top-tier division this year. However, that is more than fine for Hornish who just welcomed his first son and third child, Sam Hornish III, into the world just a few weeks prior to the start of the season in 2014.
Spending time with his family has been increasingly important for Hornish. Racing on a part-time basis for Gibbs has enabled him to see his wife and children more than ever before. Plus, he is happy – the most important thing a person could ask for.
“I don’t know if I have a lot more free time, but I go around doing a lot of different things. It’s been awesome. It’s been a really good experience. It is just everything that I needed to do from a father-husband point-of-view,” Hornish said. “Obviously, I have to remember that at some point, you have to go out there and make money to buy the kids what they want and do what they want to do. I just try to remain as positive and happy as I can. I am having a great time with them, and I can’t really ask for much more. The only thing that I need at this time, which revolves around me, is to race more.”
When he has raced, it’s already shown to pay dividends for Hornish. Last year, while racing for Team Penske, he was a race and championship contender. This year, he’s picked up where he left off and remains a legitimate contender to be around when the checkered flag flies in each race he is entered in.
In two events in the No. 54 Toyota, Hornish has a fifth-place finish and a win at Iowa Speedway. He dominated that event, leading 167 of the 250 laps and picking up his fourth career Nationwide race in what was his 101st start. Then came that extra seat that we have all been hoping he would get. Thanks to a new partnership with road course specialist Kenny Habul and his Sun Energy 1 company, Hornish was able to race at Michigan this past weekend in the No. 20 car.
Even though he spun out on the second lap of the race, Hornish charged back to a second place finish. After three races this year, his average finish is an astonishing 2.7 and he is also helping the team contend for the owners’ championship – a title which they merely lost last year.
As the season moves along, Hornish will have a handful of opportunities to prove himself in whatever car he’s in – including this coming weekend at Road America. Thanks to his impressive performance to start out his tenure at Joe Gibbs, rumors are also circling around that Hornish could possibly join the Wood Brothers in 2015 as @Tbayne21 replacement in the Sprint Cup Series, and that might be what he wants as he hopes to land with a team capable of winning races.
Although the Wood Brothers haven’t contended for race wins since Bayne’s 2011 Daytona 500 victory, Hornish brings over a resume with extensive success at intermediate tracks, which is the No. 21 team’s bread and butter. But even if he doesn’t get the job with one of the most famous teams in NASCAR history, Hornish has proved he deserves a full-time ride – his ultimate goal of proving before the current season begun.
The problem is, there are limited seats available for next season, especially in the Cup Series, but Hornish has become a fan favorite and a driver who car owners will be keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Which will be a key for him once he starts negotiations for next year.
Is there is also the possibility that he could end up in a full-time car for Joe Gibbs? @Elliott_Sadler’s contract expires at the end of the year, and if sponsorship is found and Hornish continues to put up the impressive numbers he has this year, it could put officials over at Joe Gibbs Racing in a tough spot. But one thing is for sure, we need Hornish Jr. back in the Nationwide Series full-time soon and chasing the championship.
Because he’s more than shown he deserves it.
Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist
EMAIL JOSEPH AT firstname.lastname@example.org