|Sam Hornish Jr.|
You just can't help but admire NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. Currently a prime candidate to win the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship for Roger Penske Racing, he is, at the same time, he's also looking for a ride for the 2014 season. One would think that a distraction of that magnitude would greatly interfere with this driver's ability to remain focused on winning the grand prize with only two races remaining before the end of the season.
You would never know it to watch, and listen to, Hornish. During media interviews he always seems to remain as calm and personable as ever. From the outside looking in, he seems to be doing a great job juggling the point-counter point status that has consumed his professional racing career.
The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season has truly been a breakout year for Hornish. As a three-time IndyCar Series champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, the veteran driver knows what it takes to win. He is having his best year of NASCAR competition with one victory, three poles and a series leading 15 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes.
On the championship side of the 2013 season, Hornish trails the leader of the Nationwide Series, Austin Dillon, by just six points with two races remaining in the season. Hornish looks to improve his position at Phoenix, where he has proven to know the way to victory circle. Phoenix International Raceway has been a place where Hornish excels. Most notably he earned his first-ever NASCAR Nationwide Series victory there in 2011. He also owns two IndyCar victories at the venue.
Commenting on his impending return to Phoenix, Hornish said: “It is always great to comeback to a place that has been good to you. Phoenix definitely has a lot of great memories for me. We’ve won a few races here and they have been the kind of races that have meant more than just a great day at the race track. We are engaged in a pretty tight battle for this championship and there really isn’t a place that I would rather race this weekend than at Phoenix. As far as our approach goes, we are just going to run our race, as that has proven to bring the best results for our Alliance Truck Parts crew."
If he's feeling any pressure regarding chasing a NASCAR championship then he's doing a good job of concealing it. Commenting on the element of pressure, he said: “I don’t think about it too much really. Right now I am fortunate that I have the best people and the best equipment I’ve had since coming to NASCAR. I felt a lot more pressure when I first went to Cup – I felt like I had to carry the car, which I’ve since learned is not possible. It takes being surrounded by the right people and having top-notch equipment too. This Alliance Truck Parts Ford has been fast and consistent all year long. We have a great group of guys and a solid pit crew. All those factors make my job a little bit easier. I feel good about where we are right now."
However, the nagging issue of 2014 and the future still remains for this driver. In early September came word that a lack of sponsorship may force Roger Penske Racing to park their #12 Nationwide Series Ford team. Hornish has recently admitted that he has been talking to other team owners to determine what his options for next year may be. However, it appears that his situation may be a case of being a day late and a dollar short. Many of the quality rides, both in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, have already been filled and the rides that are available are in serious need of sponsorship dollars.
While the immediate future remains cloudy, Hornish has made one point crystal clear: he will not become the latest former Indy Car champion to leave NASCAR racing and return to his open wheel roots. He has even gone on record as saying that he will consider a part time ride in 2014 while working towards a full time arrangement for 2015.
Hornish is also very creative and writes a blog column for "ESPN (dot) Com. Recently he shared his thoughts on having to deal with a championship run while looking for a ride at the same time: " We are grateful for this opportunity to race this weekend, and for the chance we have to win this championship. We are putting all of our energy, our focus and our desire into doing our best each time we touch our race car. We are not going to compromise this moment by spending it worrying about tomorrow or next year. If we give our best to this moment, this day and this race, well, the rest will take care of itself. It always does. The only thing you can question is whether or not you gave your absolute best. The only way to give your absolute best is to be 100 percent committed to this moment. So we will leave the thoughts of next year to those who can afford to have them. Right now we have a championship to win, and that is an opportunity that we are grateful to have."