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Hornish In Make Or Break Situation – Again

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 14 2012

Sam Hornish Jr. has a ride in the Sprint Cup Series – again and for now. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

LOUDON, N.H. – Sam Hornish Jr. is no fool. He fully understands the opportunity that is being handed to him because of A.J. Allmendinger’s bad luck/bad karma/bad choices, whatever it turns out to be.

On Sunday, Hornish will drive the No. 12 Dodge in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Chances are, if Allmendinger’s suspension by NASCAR for using a prohibited substance is extended or made permanent, the former IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner will get his second chance to prove he can be a Sprint Cup contender.

The first chance ended in 2010 after three full seasons in the Cup series with the loss of sponsorship and the critics saying, “See, these IndyCar guys can’t drive stock cars.’’

This latest opportunity came about last week at Daytona, when Hornish was rushed in at the last minutes to replace the suspended Allmendinger. He finished 33rd after a tire came apart early in the race.

Roger Penske, who brought Hornish to NASCAR and still has high hopes for the laid back driver from Ohio, has kept Hornish around as a Nationwide driver, continuing his stock car education.

“I don’t know, it’s like we either move really slow or we jump off the deep end,’’ Hornish said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “And I’m not saying that in a negative way. It’s like the last couple years for me, I’ve filled in for (teammate) Brad (Keselowski) when he hurt his foot and (I’ve) done a lot of

Sam Hornish Jr. has a lot of weight upon his shoulders once again. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

testing for the (Penske) teams.

“You never know what happens and there’s always a reason for everything, so I just feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to run these two weeks. If we get an opportunity to do more, that’d be great. If not, I’m going to take it as I learned a little bit more than what I would have sitting at home or doing a TV show. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can and not expect too much out of myself but I want to go out there and I want to run well.”

Hornish is used to the pressure of having to perform to keep his job.

“I really haven’t had much more than a  one-year contract since I first came over running on the NASCAR side,’’ he said. “So every year is kind of a make or break in some ways.’’

There is strong evidence that Hornish is catching onto this stock car stuff – at least the Nationwide version.

Following a fourth-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire, he is fourth in the standings, 32 points behind series leader Elliott Sadler, with young guns Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in between.

“The biggest thing that I look at is what’s Brad doing?’’ Hornish said of his teammate, who drives a part-time Nationwide schedule as well as a full-time Cup schedule. “Brad has obviously won three races over here on (the Cup) side. With the exception of the first couple of (Nationwide) races of the year, we ran real close to Brad all year, finished right in front of him, right behind him.

“I know as long as I keep up with him and beat him that I feel like if I get the right opportunity on the Cup level, I can do some good things over here too. I try to judge myself off of him and I’ve learned a lot from the last two seasons, being able to sit back and to watch.

“If I can take anything away from it, to just learn a little bit more, that’s a great thing to be able to go out there and do that,” he added.

Hornish said his goals in the Cup car are modest, at least for the moment.

“Last week, I just didn’t want to tear up the car. The tire came apart about halfway through the race and that got to be the first caution.

“My goal for this weekend is to go out there and have smart, clean race. I’d love to finish on the lead lap. I know if we do that, we’ll be in the top 20. … the big thing for me is just to make sure that we get these guys some points, take care of the equipment and try to do the best we can.

“I’d be happy if we finished in the top 10. I might be disappointed if we finished outside the top 20.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 14 2012
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