Sam Hornish, Jr., The Forgotten Man

Sam Hornish,Jr.

(WOMR file photo)

Sam Hornish, Jr.must have many mixed feelings these days at Penske Racing.  He has now been overlooked twice for the #22 Pennzoil Dodge.

When questioned about that fact, Hornnish took a few minutes to answer questions, he was frank to the max. He talked carefully, but candidly, about his less-than-joyous situation at Penske Racing and his relationship with the man known by many as The Captain: A relationship which has become, both person-to-person and business-wise, unmistakably cooler as a result of the Penske decision to hand the No. 22 Sprint Cup car over to outsider Joey Logano in 2013.

“Still not happy about it,” Hornish said Tuesday. Even a month down the line.

“At some point in time,” Hornish said, making sure he chose the right words and tone, “I’ll become more comfortable talking about it. But, you’ve got two hands. I feel that Roger has been very loyal to me on one hand. On the other hand, I’ve kinda been overlooked on that Shell Pennzoil car a couple of times already. I can understand all of it, but it does make you think about what your future is going to be.”

“Still not happy about it,” Hornish said Tuesday. Even a month down the line.

“At some point in time,” Hornish said, making sure he chose the right words and tone, “I’ll become more comfortable talking about it. But, you’ve got two hands. I feel that Roger has been very loyal to me on one hand. On the other hand, I’ve kinda been overlooked on that Shell Pennzoil car a couple of times already. I can understand all of it, but it does make you think about what your future is going to be.”

When Hornish decided he wanted to become a racecar driver, the modest kid from the modest surroundings of Defiance, Ohio, adopted some fairly modest goals. Modest, that is for race car drivers. He said he wanted to simply qualify for the field in the Indianapolis 500.

He accomplished that goal in 2000, driving for owner Paul Diatlovich. The following three years, he again qualified for the 500, this time for the Panther Racing team which was – and is – owned by open-wheel veteran John Barnes and current San Francisco 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Oh, and Hornish also won the IndyCar championship those three years.

After winning those championships, Hornish found himself to be a wanted man. Good-wanted. Calls came in from, among others, Rick Hendrick and J.D. Gibbs of NASCAR. He turned them all down mostly because he had another goal:

To work for Penske.

“I turned down a lot of people to come to Penske Racing,” Hornish said. “People forget about that. Every good Cup team you can think of before I went to Penske and try to win the Indianapolis 500. But sometimes you got to give up something to get something. If it means you’ve got to tell Rick Hendrick no…that was one of the toughest things, is to having to tell Rick Hendrick I couldn’t be part of his team.”

Several of the those prime offers came after Hornish had committed to Roger Penske. And Hornish, just as he would never cheat while competing in his beloved bowling, would not go back on his deal. No matter how badly he would have wanted to.

“When I was sitting down going through the pros and cons of things,” Hornish said, “I’d go, ‘Who were my favorite Indycar drivers growing up? There’s Rick Mears, Al Unser Jr., Danny Sullivan. What do they all have in common? They all drove for Roger.’ So…”

Even though he did get that victory at The Speedway for Penske – and himself – and even though he had become increasingly uncomfortable in Indycars which were crashing and injuring a significant number of top drivers, Hornish still just has to think, “That stuff (of turning down solid NASCAR offers) may have hurt me now.”

Hornish went to team-owner Penske after winning the 2006 Indy 500, and asked about moving over to the team’s NASCAR side. Penske said yes.

That year, Hornish drove in a couple of Nationwide races and several more in Cup late in the year.  That year, nor any of the following years, went very well for Hornish in the bigger, heavier, extremely low down force “dump trucks”!  Hornish’s situation didn’t get any better in NASCAR until this year.

This year it appears that Hornish has gotten “it”!  He has gotten how to get, consistently, speed, and good finishes out of the car.  He is a serious contender for the Nationwide Series championship, and has run with “the big dogs” in the #22 Sprint Cup car as “The Dinger’s” replacement driver.

Hornish fells that he has gotten “it” enough to be considered for a full-time Sprint Cup ride with Penske Racing in 2013.  However, the ultimate kicker was when Hornish got the phone call that Joey Logano, a longtime friend of Brad Keselowski, was getting the full time ride in the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge for 2013.

Asked why he thinks he was passed over for the No. 22 ride this most recent time, Hornish said, “I want to believe is they felt they were really close to having a third Cup team, and we could parlay some of our Nationwide sponsors with a new Cup sponsor.”

That has not happened. Probably won’t happen, both Hornish and the team have said.

even though he and Penske “are not as tight” as they used to be, and even though Hornish is disappointed with the way things have gone down, and even though his future has been thrown into disarray, Hornish still remains loyal at heart to The Captain and his crew.

He still feels honored to be part of Penske lore. “When I came to do this,” Hornish said, “I said that Roger hadn’t won the Daytona 500 or a championship over here and I said, and I’m sure it’s quoted somewhere, that I may not be the guy who does it for him, but I want to be part of it.

“I want him to win this championship (with Keselowski this year) just as bad has he wants to win it. I really do feel like even if I’m just the lackey backup driver, at least I am part of it in some way, shape or form.”

So, where does Hornish go  from here?

Presumably back to his Penske Nationwide Series ride.

It is very unfortunate that Hornish has been on the receiving end of some circumstances that was out of his control.  Additionally, his loyalty to Roger Penske may have cost  him a very lucrative NASCAR career, earlier in his racing life.

In a perfect world, Sam would have an offer for a full-time ride in 2013 after his super-sub roll in the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.  Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world.  And therefore, a full-time offer in 2013 does not seem to be in the offing for Sam Hornish, Jr..

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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