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Sudden Opening Gives Sudden Sam Another Shot

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 10 2012

Same Hornish Jr. got to wave the checkered flag after winning the Nationwide race at Phoenix last year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

It’s best to let the AJ Allmendinger situation resolve itself before getting too carried away with righteous indignation, scorn or sympathy. But it’s not too early to say this: The hope here is that Sam Hornish Jr. makes the most of the opportunity which has been regrettably made his.

Hornish got the call from Penske Racing owner Roger Penske when, late – almost inexplicably late – on Saturday, NASCAR pulled Allmendinger from Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Daytona.

The reason was a failed drug test.

The opportunity for Hornish, who had to be same-day air-mailed to DIS, is for another chance at NASCAR relevancy. A chance that, it was announced Monday, would at least extend to this weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

Some of us who watched Hornish come up through the Indy Racing League figured this was the open wheeler who would make a successful transition to modern stock cars. He was just so good on the ovals in the IRL.

It may have been a bit of a stretch to call him the Rick Mears of his time there, but the talents on ovals – many of which also hosted NASCAR events – were undeniable. Hornish won three championships with John Barnes’ Panther Racing team and then was recruited and signed by a guy who knows a thing or two about all forms of racing; Roger Penske.

It was with Penske that Hornish won the Indianapolis 500. And what a win it was. The belief here it was

Sam Hornish Jr. will be in the No. 22 Cup car again this weekend. (RacingToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

the best Indy finish of our time. It was in 2006. Marco Andretti had what looked from the press box window,to be an insurmountable lead at the white flag. But on the last lap, Hornish found a smidge more power.

He tracked Andretti down and when they came out of Turn 4 Hornish was – almost unbelievably – moving in for the kill. A couple hundred feet from the checkered flag, Hornish swung low and it was a drag race to the yard of bricks. Hornish beat Andretti by .06 seconds.

Cool stuff. The next year, he and Penske opted to move the quiet native of Defiance, Ohio to stock cars and what followed – almost unbelievably – has been five years of struggle. He has one victory in Nationwide and an average finish of 27th in 111 winless Cup starts.

And the NASCAR purists, they have been able to maintain their told-you-so attitude in the debate about which American-series drivers are better.

Also holding course in terms of attitude, which is marked by class and dignity, has been Hornish. That, too, is something Sudden Sam has shared with Mears throughout his career. It is something that certain other Indycar immigrants would do well to imitate as she, er, they search for answers (excuses) in NASCAR.

During his IRL days, Hornish was a “tough interview” – for all the right reasons. You had to talk about his favorite pastime, bowling, to break the ice. And then the ice was not so much broken as chipped. He was certainly the yin to teammate Helio Castroneves’ yang in the interview department. The only reality show the former could have won would have been Napping With The Stars.

Maybe it has been that attitude which has slowed Hornish as a driver in NASCAR – that insistence on maintaining gentlemanly sensibilities in a sport born of ruffians.

Now, with Allmendinger in limbo and, if some reports are correct, done for the season if not forever at Penske, Hornish has another chance. Some of us would love to see him turn that chance into some well-deserved success.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 10 2012
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