Hornish Shares Saturday's Journey from SPEED Penske Racing driver and SPEED Center analyst Sam Hornish, Jr. was on-air live for SPEED Saturday evening when his phone began ringing with the news he immediately was needed in the No. 22 Dodge at Daytona to fill in for AJ Allmendinger, who, unbeknownst to Hornish, had been temporarily suspended by NASCAR for failing a drug test.
At the time, Penske officials didn’t share with Hornish the reason Allmendinger was out of the evening’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Hornish, who again will fill in for Allmendinger Sunday at Loudon, finished up his SPEED duties in Charlotte, N.C., and headed for the airport. He shared his night with host Leigh Diffey on Sunday’s SPEED Center edition. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Diffey: I remember 24 hours ago I saw you off to the side (of the SPEED Center set) and you were on your phone quite a bit. Is that where you got the call (from Penske Racing)?
Hornish: Actually right before we were getting ready to do our picks (for Cup race winner), I got a phone call. Getting ready to go on live TV – you can’t really just take a call and say, “Hold on guys. Let’s push the show back a little bit.” But I got a call and as soon as we finished up the show, I got another call. I’m like, “This is going to be pretty urgent.” So I got hold of Walt Czarnecki ,which is a longtime associate of Roger’s and comes to all of our NASCAR events. He said, “Hey – we need you down there.” I didn’t get anything. “We need you to go to the Charlotte airport. We’re going to put you on a plane and have you come down here.” So, I ran off, got a sandwich, got something to eat. Got a couple of bottles of water, started trying to get hydrated. A lot of things were going through my mind because I really wasn’t prepared to be able to race, but I guess in these circumstances, or at any point in time, I guess I should always be prepared to race.
Diffey: You had to plug yourself into the middle of the chaos in a car sight-unseen. How challenging was that?
Hornish: Well, I didn’t get the opportunity to have all the chaos. I was just trying to go out there, obviously sight unseen with the race car. Got into it. They got my seat into it. They got half of my mirror package. They had the right pedals – I think they swiped them out of Brad’s (Keselowski) car because we run some of the same stuff. What it allowed me to do was, even starting at the back there, I took the first 15 laps just to get comfortable with what the car’s doing, try to work my way forward. The big thing for me was really I didn’t want to overextend myself at all. I didn’t want to go out there and give myself any problems. So, if it felt good, go for it. If not, go back. So, got up to 10th and I felt really good about that. The car was good enough that we were going to the front if we get the right opportunities. So, I went to the back and about a lap-and-a-half later, we lose the left-rear tire but the good thing was we weren’t involved in a wreck or someone hitting us because of it.