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Penske to demote backmarker Hornish? UPDATE #6 Sam Hornish Jr. has been given permission by Penske Racing to seek employment elsewhere, and the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner no longer is ruling out a return to IndyCar. The three-time champion of the Izod IndyCar Series is nearing the end of his third full season in the Sprint Cup Series, and sponsor Mobil 1 is leaving the team. Hornish says team owner Roger Penske wants to keep him in the fold but might not be able to if sponsorship doesn't materialize. "Roger has told me a million times and the media a million times that if they have the money to put me in the Cup series that they'd do it," Hornish said after qualifying 15th Friday for the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "We just don't have that yet. They asked what my preference was, and my preference was to stay in the Cup Series. They're not going to stand in my way if I get the opportunity to be able to do that." Hornish says there are several scenarios that could keep him with Penske in either a Nationwide or Cup ride, but nothing was certain. During an interview in April, he seemed steadfast about staying in NASCAR. But Friday, he had softened his stance on IndyCar. "I need to see how everything plays out," Hornish said. "I've said a lot of times I don't have a lot of interest to go back. But I'm not going to say never. My goal is to try to stay in the Cup series, and if I have to take a step back and run Nationwide, that's a possibility. I'll have to wait and see how it plays out, I guess." Speculation about a possible return was heightened in the past week when it became apparent that Panther Racing might have an opening. After this season, 2005 Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon apparently will leave the team that gave Hornish his break. USA Today

09/17/10 While Penske Racing is keeping mum on Verizon leaving the NASCAR side of the program and Justin Allgaier's status for next season, sources say don't be surprised if Sam Hornish Jr. ends up in a Nationwide Series ride as Brad Keselowski's teammate in 2011.

09/15/10 From a NASCAR.com interview with Penske Racing boss Tim Cindric:

Q: What do you foresee happening with the 77?

Cindric: Right now we're still in search of a primary sponsor for that car. That search will continue for the rest of the year. The good news is that it's September and not December.

Q: What does that mean for Hornish? Will he be back for sure?

Cindric: I wouldn't say anything is for sure. You can't race without the funding. So as we sit right now, we're collectively trying to do that -- but we also understand that if there are opportunities for him, it's an open book as far as communication. We're certainly not going to stand in his way as far as furthering his career, but we'd certainly like for him to be able to continue with us.

08/11/10 Team owner Roger Penske says driver Sam Hornish Jr. will be competing in NASCAR in 2011 and that there are no plans for the three-time IndyCar champion to return to open-wheel competition.

“We’ve said publicly that we want to run Sam next year (in NASCAR); he’s not going back to open-wheel racing,” Penske said during a national teleconference Tuesday. “He’s going to be in NASCAR racing.”

Hornish, 31, is in his third full season with Penske Racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. He has only two career top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 94 starts, which rank him as backmarker status.

It’s a matter of us getting the sponsorship stuff together,” Penske said. “As you know, budgets are tight. We’ve got a number of opportunities out there that we’re working on.

“That’s a decision that we’ll make as we get toward the end of the season and we’ll make it transparent to everyone.”

“We signed him up five years ago and he has really developed,” Penske said. “He’s always been a great driver. He was a champion [in 2004], but as I think of his MO today … when you look at Watkins Glen racing against [Juan Pablo] Montoya and the road racers who are so good and to see the car run as well as it did, it’s a credit to him.”

07/30/10 Panther and Vision are the two IndyCar teams rumored as possibly being interested in Hornish.

07/23/10 Former IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. said Friday his future in NASCAR remains unclear. Hornish, who drives the No. 77 Dodge for Penske Racing, said he does not know whether he will be back in the Sprint Cup Series next season, particularly as his team remains without a sponsor for the 2011 season.

Former IRL star Sam Hornish Jr. has been a backmarker in NASCAR, thereby, making the IRL look inferior once again
"I hope I'm here in a stock car," Hornish said when asked whether he would be back at Indy next season in a stock car or Indy car. "I'd definitely like to be back in the Sprint Cup Series."

In two-plus seasons in Cup, Hornish has two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 91 career starts. ThatsRacin

07/08/10 According to the always opinionated Ryan McGee of ESPN, Sam Hornish Jr.'s day's at Penske Racing may be numbered as he tweeted this directly after Hornish's wreck during the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on July 3rd:

"And that was the last they ever heard of Sam Hornish.

What McGee was suggesting, was that Sam Hornish will be replaced by Justin Allgaier in the #77 for next year; which on Roger Penske's side of things, would not be a bad idea.

Here's a few stats to ponder on while you read: Sam Hornish Jr. has 90 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with only 7 top 10's. He raced 19 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series over 3 years, with an average finish of 27.9.

While Justin Allgaier has a total of 56 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with 1 win, 21 top 10's, and an average finish of 15.3, all in 3 years.

You may be wandering why Penske would so abruptly pull Hornish from the Dodge Charger, but if you will remember David Stremme was pulled in favor of Brad Keselowski with 3 races to go in 2009. Bleacher Report

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