Hornish is ready to take that next step with Richard Petty Motorsports.
CONCORD, N.C. – Sam Hornish Jr. has found a new “family” with Richard Petty Motorsports.
RPM made it official on Wednesday that the Indy 500 winner and former three-time IndyCar champion would become part of the Petty fold.
“I look at my racing career, and I've been very blessed to work with some icons in Motorsports,” Hornish said. “To have the opportunity to work for the King now, after coming off of a year where I had a part‑time job working for the Coach (Joe Gibbs) and then the Captain (Roger Penske) in the past.
“I feel really good about this opportunity with the No. 9 team and having the opportunity to work with (crew chief) Drew Blickensderfer, also to work with Aric (driver Almirola) and the 43 team.”
Working his way back
Hornish, 35, spent the last four years preparing himself for the opportunity to drive a competitive Cup car again. He made it clear that when he jumped from open wheel to NASCAR in 2008, it wasn’t for the fame. Nor was it wasn’t financially motivated. Hornish simply wanted to be challenged as a driver.
They’re getting to the point where not only do they have the speed, they have the consistency every week when they show up at the race track.
Sam Hornish on RPM
With a team that is on the rise such as the No. 9 RPM Ford, Hornish’s challenge will be satisfied.
“I have an opportunity to run for Richard Petty,” Honish said. “And the direction they’ve taken the team, the way that both cars have run – right now they’re finding the speed. They’re getting to the point where not only do they have the speed, they have the consistency every week when they show up at the race track. When you look at the practice times and you look at the qualifying times, they’re in the top 10 and having good runs.
“For me, I feel that this is a good opportunity to build something, to try and help build something. My end goal for all of this is at some point in time is to leave it better than when I found it. Anything I can do to help build the organization, right now it’s two cars and there’s a lot of things they have their eyes on for the future, but if I can, be part of that.”
Finding his voice
Before Hornish transitioned full-time to NASCAR full-time with Team Penske in 2008, he posted 19 wins and 47podium finishes in IndyCar. But it wasn’t until he concentrated on a Nationwide Series effort that he was finally able to break through in stock cars. It took four full seasons in NASCAR before he earned his first of three NNS wins.
Once Hornish found his comfort zone, he was truly able to start moving forward. Over the next two seasons – his first full-time efforts in NNS – Hornish finished fourth and second, respectively. This season, he’s dabbled in Nationwide as a fill-in for Joe Gibbs Racing and earned his third career win at Iowa Speedway.
Over the last four seasons, Hornish has regained his sureness behind the wheel.
I'm better able to be able to express those feelings and to lead the crew chief in a direction.
Sam Hornish Jr.
“I got to work with quite a few different crew chiefs over the past couple years, and really what that allows me to do is be able to better understand what's going through those guys' heads,” Hornish said. “Pick up things that I like from one crew chief to the next and be able to in my routine about the way I transfer my notes and my thoughts on the car and the direction that we need to go.
“I'm better able to be able to express those feelings and to lead the crew chief in a direction, and also at the same time I'm better able to understand when they've got a good point of the direction that they want to head in and I can feel free to release the reigns a little bit there.”
A fresh start
Crew chief Drew Blickenderfer met Hornish for the first time on Tuesday. He described Hornish as “a very humble, nice guy with a demeanor that is “very similar to Aric”, who Blickensderfer worked with prior to Marcos Ambrose. He believes that having two young drivers pulling in the same direction will help RPM grow.
He regained a lot of confidence particularly after finishing out the 2012 season strong and from his wins in the Nationwide Series.
Drew Blickensderfer on Hornish
For now, Blickensderfer feels the first step for the No. 9 team is to hit the track and dial in their communication before the testing ban goes into effect for next year. After establishing a pace, Blickensderfer will attach the intermediate tracks.
”Our immediate game plan is to get on the track with our cars and our team as much as we can before Homestead,” Blickensderfer said. “Get him to Nashville, possibly New Smyrna, get him in race cars to try to get a jump on next year. That’s important so we won’t be showing up at Atlanta with a new car and a new driver/crew chief combination.
“The long range goal is looking at Sam’s performance the last time he was in a Cup car, he ran really well in the 22. The cars were good. The way he described it to me yesterday, is he regained a lot of confidence particularly after finishing out the 2012 season strong and from his wins in the Nationwide Series.
“The place he ran well, were the tracks where he wore tires out – the Atlantas, the Chicagos, the mile-and-a-halves. He’s always been a guy that has had speed on all the big tracks. That’s something we’ll focus on next year – trying to take advantage on the big tracks. That’s were our program currently needs improvement.”
Patience pays off
Hornish acknowledged that he bided his time until the right situation to come along. During his motorsports tenure he’s seen too many drivers accept just any ride in order “to be out there on the track every week”. However, not being tied down to one team enabled Hornish “to maneuver a little bit easier” when opportunities were presented.
I just can't say enough about the fact of getting to come here and being a part of something that's building.
“There is a lot of momentum in this organization, people that are putting in a lot of hours and working extremely hard,” Hornish said. “It's Sammy (Johns, director of competition) and all the guys there too that are trying to push this organization forward and to regain a top spot in the sport. I feel like having this opportunity to be here is awesome for my career, and I just can't say enough about the fact of getting to come here and being a part of something that's building.
"They've done a lot in the last two years and they continue to position themselves so they can move forward and go from being somebody that was a contender to be in the Chase, to this year they had the 43 team in the Chase and had some really strong runs with the exception of a couple problems here and there.
"I feel like having the opportunity is great for me, and above and beyond to be able to drive for Richard Petty now is just awesome. Looking forward to getting to know everybody at RPM and also all the guys on the No. 9.”