By Kelly Crandall – Coming off a 2013 season in which he nearly won the Nationwide Series championship, Sam Hornish Jr. was left without a ride when Penske Racing couldn’t find sponsorship to keep him behind the wheel.
Since early September Hornish has been searching for his next home in NASCAR, unwilling to head back to IndyCar where he came from, yet determined not to land where running 15th would be an acceptable day.
His search has finally come to an end as he lands in the best seat the NNS has to offer.
Hornish has been announced as the new driver of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing. He’ll split seat time with Kyle Busch, the primary driver of the machine who won 12 of the 26 races he was entered in last year.
“We’re excited to have someone of Sam’s caliber joining Kyle behind the wheel of the Monster Energy Camry this year,” said J.D. Gibbs, President of Joe Gibbs Racing. “We think we have a great team there with Monster Energy and Sam will be an outstanding addition. We lost out on the owner’s championship by just one point last year so our focus will be on trying to get that title back in 2014.”
Busch is the 2009 series champion and the winningest driver in NNS history. He’ll continue to run the majority of the schedule, as he’s previously done, with Hornish running the remaining races. Which JGR officials said Monday will be at least seven races.
Hornish will first get behind the wheel at Talladega in May. His six other races will be both events at Iowa, the road courses of Road America and Mid-Ohio, Chicagoland Speedway in July, and the Kentucky race in September.
“I’m exciting about driving the No. 54 Monster Energy car this year. It’s a great opportunity for me,” Hornish said in the team release. “It’s the best possible situation for me to jump into great equipment and have the opportunity to go right out and win. After working with Penske for 10 years and now to have the opportunity to partner with Joe Gibbs Racing, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
“These are great people, top notch. To partner with Kyle, and all this team provides, with the support of Joe and J.D., it provides me with everything I need to succeed. It’s also a phenomenal opportunity for me to partner with a market leader such as Monster Energy. The brand identity and fan following that goes along with this sponsor is super. I can’t wait to get into that car!”
The 2013 season was the second full-time year for Hornish who has 99 career NNS starts under his belt. Hornish battled Austin Dillon down to the season finale in Homestead last November for the title, coming up short after what some call a controversial caution and five lap finish.
It was the most successful and notable year for Hornish, who landed back in the NNS after unsuccessfully running three full years in the Sprint Cup Series with Penske Racing. The famed team owner brought the former Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion to NASCAR in 2007. In 2012 he finished fourth in NNS points after picking up his first career win late in the season.
Adam Stevens will return as the crew chief of the No. 54. He’s earned 23 career wins atop the pit box.
“This year will be fun with Sam and me behind the wheel of our Monster Energy Camry,” Busch said about the announcement. “Last year we lost the chance for another owner’s championship by a slim margin and I think you can expect a close battle again this season.
“Having an experienced guy in there to fill the role on a regular basis when I’m not there, gives Adam the opportunity for real consistency. Sam was a strong competitor last year and I look forward to having him on our side this season.”
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