It’s been a long time since Sam Hornish Jr. was in a dominant position driving a race car. Before his 114 laps led in road to Victory Lane at Nationwide Series’ Sam’s Town 300 in Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you would have to go back to his IndyCar time, where he shone during seven full seasons, taking three championships and 19 victories, including the Indianapolis 500.
Those days stayed behind when the Ohio native decided to switch to NASCAR at fulltime basis in 2008 to run in the Sprint Cup Series. Changing open wheel racing for stock cars is not an easy thing to do for anybody, and that’s exactly what Hornish had tu suffer since day one in the new office. In three seasons in NASCAR’s top series (106 races) for Penske Racing, Hornish achieved just two top 5 and seven top 10. Not good enough.
He just needs the pieces of the puzzle to fall together.
Thus, 2011 got the former IndyCar champion out of the Cup and racing some events of the Nationwide Series, a step back that quickly proved to be for the best. In 13 races, Hornish took six top 10, two top 5 and, finally, a trip to Victory Lane in November at Phoenix International Raceway.
The man had found his place in the NASCAR world and the 2012 season was the confirmation, finishing with 22 top 10 in 34 races (10 top 5) and a solid fourth place in the standings, despite not a win. True, the 19 races driving the N°22 in the Cup after AJ Allmendinger’s suspension with no good performance and the impossibility to continue this year meant a hit, but Hornish knows the best way to get back there and have a new chance is being a championship caliber driver in Nationwide.
With that idea in mind is that he received new crew chief Greg Erwin (former Roush Fenway Racing, where qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in three consecutive years with Greg Biffle) and three races later in this season, the three top 10 –with a second place in Daytona and a victory in Las Vegas (an intermediate track, take note of that) and the first place in the standings speaks well of his chances.
“I think that Greg and I, although I didn’t go to college or through an engineering program, have a lot in common. We have had a couple hits the last few years that have made us hungry for things. One of the things I tried to stress to him that he already knew but was probably good to hear come from my mouth was that we needed to get out of the gate good", Hornish said after winning in Vegas.
“Yeah, it is really early but I would rather be 19 points ahead than 80 behind”, Hornish remarked. “Let’s just keep digging and trying to do the best we can. That is what we are here for. We would like to make this kind of a yawner toward the end of the season and have the points already wrapped up.”
OK, it’s been only three races, and the season is long. Hornish is the first to recognize that. But he also seems to start having all the pieces in the right place for the first time in a long time. The once dominating man in the IndyCar is keen to repeat that in Nationwide Series this year and the class of the field performance in Las Vegas may have been just the beginning.