By Matt Weaver — Sam Hornish Jr. is fighting for much more than a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship over the next two weekends. He’s fighting for the chance to stay in NASCAR.
During the ESPN prerace show for Saturday’s Nationwide race at Phoenix International Raceway, former Penske Racing driver Rusty Wallace reported that Roger Penske is hoping to retain Hornish for next season but a continuation is dependent on securing sponsorship money.
Hornish has been advised to shop his services elsewhere just in case Team Penske is unable to seal the deal.
It’s remarkable that the driver that has led the standings for much of the season — and enters the penultimate race in second — doesn’t have a deal finalized but that’s the hand he’s been dealt. All that remains for Hornish to do over the next two weekends at Phoenix and Homestead is for the three-time IndyCar Series champion to go out and perform.
Hornish has one win this season — at Las Vegas but finds himself six points behind Austin Dillon in the closing stages. Not that Hornish ever made excuses but the domination of Sprint Cup Series regulars and his own teammates in the Nationwide Series doesn’t mean a thing anymore.
Two races and six points separate Hornish from being recognized as a solid driver in a competitive Series or a NASCAR Champion, a difference that may keep him from marketability in the eyes of prospective sponsors at the end of the year.
To his credit, Hornish has time to close the gap and he seems to know it too.
“The biggest thing is knowing we don’t have to have it all this weekend,” Hornish told ESPN on Friday. “A lot of mistakes can be made and things like that. We’re just going to go out there and try to run the 12 car’s race to the best of our ability and worry about ourselves and figure out where it shakes out for Homestead.
“It’s two tracks where I really loving racing at, especially Phoenix.”
Hornish is battle tested and knows how it to get it done. And he must because absolutely everything rides on this championship battle.