IRL: Hornish's racing future focused on NASCAR

Indy Racing League's 2006 IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish, Jr. has his eyes set on NASCAR. Hornish will join the recent influx of openwheel racers to join the stock car ranks, with the goal to race in the top elite series: NASCAR Nextel Cup.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Jim Haines - IRL.
Several members in the Penske organization have confirmed that beginning this month, they plan to test Hornish in a stock car to prepare him for his NASCAR debut.

The Charlotte Observer reports that Hornish will begin a developmental program with Penske Racing to prepare him for a full season in the Nextel Cup series in 2008. Hornish will attempt to make the show for this year's Busch races at Phoenix and Homestead in a Dodge fielded by Penske.

In 2007, the Team Penske IndyCar racer will run the full IRL schedule, mixing in stock car races with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), the Busch series and a few Cup races.

Hornish has raced in the IRL for seven seasons where he has 18 wins including the Indianapolis 500 this past May. He is the reigning IndyCar Series champion, his third IRL title. Hornish is the only driver in 11 seasons to win multiple titles. This year, he gave Roger Penske and his team their first IRL championship, their 12th in top-level openwheel racing.

Hornish made a name for himself in 2000 when he landed his first ride in the IRL, taking a podium finish. He followed that up in 2001, when he became the youngest driver to win an IRL race and he did it at the season opener with his new team. Hornish would go on to win his first title. In 2002, he again made history by becoming the only driver to win back-to-back IRL championships.

In 2003, Hornish joined Team Penske replacing Gil de Ferran. Hornish won his twelfth career IndyCar race in his debut with Penske. It was the first time in Penske Racing team history that a driver won a race in his inaugural run with the team.

In September while in Daytona at the first ever IndyCar test at the speedway's infield course, Hornish hinted that NASCAR might be his next step, "The first thing you have to do is go through all the preliminaries, doing the tests, getting that first little bit of seat time. I'm not going to hop right in there and go to a race. People will know it's happening before I just show up one day and here I am [at a race]. It's something we're looking to. No plans are even close right now, but the intentions are there."