Skip to content

Sam Hornish Jr. looks forward to new start with Joe Gibbs Racing

Feb 13, 2014, 1:36 AM EST

Indiana 250 - Practice Getty Images

After battling Austin Dillon for last season’s Nationwide Series championship, Sam Hornish Jr. ultimately fell short by a mere three points.

Dillon won the title and got a promotion to Sprint Cup for 2014.

Hornish, however, was essentially laid-off from Penske Racing when enough sponsorship dollars couldn’t be found to keep his NNS team going for 2014.

But rather than mope or throw a pity party, the 34-year-old Hornish will indeed be racing in 2014, driving in at least seven NNS races as he and Kyle Busch team up to share a ride in the Joe Gibbs Racing-owned No. 54 NNS Toyota.

It’s not a full-time ride, but Hornish feels fortunate he has another job and he’s still racing.

Even with the departure from the Penske organization after a decade-long association that included one of his three IndyCar championships and a victory in the 2006 Indianapolis 500, Hornish holds no grudges – even though some uninformed critics felt otherwise.

“Cleaning up my office (at Penske Racing) and packing up all the stuff, it felt weird,” Hornish told MotorSportsTalk. “There were some people that expressed a little bit of bitterness towards me about it, but I said, ‘Hey, I didn’t quit. I didn’t have a job anymore. What do you want me to do?’

“It’s just like anything else in life, you’re never going to make everybody happy. I’m proud of the decade-long relationship with Penske Racing and Roger, and I hope that no matter what happens throughout as the future goes, I can always say that not only was he my boss but he was my friend as well.”

While Hornish could have stayed on with Penske in a different capacity, perhaps as a test driver or another role, when the JGR offer came up, he had to take it.

“I told Roger from the get-go that I was going to do this,” Hornish said. “I told him, ‘I hope you understand where I’m at and all those things.’ After we had an opportunity to talk about it, I feel like he felt much better about it.”

While this will essentially put him back to square one by racing a part-time schedule, Hornish is okay with that. The key is just to be back behind the wheel.

He also hasn’t given up on his hopes to return to a full-time ride in Sprint Cup some day.

“I want to be successful and I want to run up towards the front of no matter what I do,” he said. “I’m really excited to get into a JGR car, starting out on the Nationwide side.

“I want to go Cup racing in the future, but I’m only going to do that if I think that it’s with an organization I can run in the top-15 regularly. That means I want to do it with someone I can hopefully get into the Chase with. There are a lot of things that can bias that, but I know that being with an organization like JGR that has great sponsors that tend to be on the car year in and year out, to be with a company like Monster Energy and what they’re brand is … this is the right place for me.”

Hornish will start with seven races in the No. 54 Toyota and see where things go. His first race tentatively isn’t until April 25 at Richmond.

Even though that may seem like a long time, Hornish looks on the bright side. When asked about how he thinks NASCAR’s new qualifying format will play out, Hornish said with a laugh, “The great part about my job is this year is I’ve got eight weeks to watch everybody else do it and screw it up, and hopefully I’ll get it right.”

Until then, he’ll continue to immerse himself in the JGR culture and way of doing things, while also enjoying the latest addition to his family. After two daughters, Hornish and wife Crystal welcomed son Samuel III into the world on Feb. 8.

With Juan Pablo Montoya‘s decision to return to Indy cars after a seven-season stint in NASCAR, as well as Cup drivers Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger planning to compete in this year’s Indianapolis 500, Hornish was asked whether he’d ever consider going back to the open-wheel world.

After all, he experienced a much greater level of success in sleek Indy cars – three championships and a win in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 – than he has in NASCAR stock car racing.

Hornish quickly downplays the possibility.

“The last time I had serious thoughts about it was in 2011,” Hornish said. “That ended after about the fifth lap at the Las Vegas race (when his friend Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific wreck) and I haven’t thought much about it since then.”

Plus, there’d be very little to gain for Hornish to return to IndyCar.

“I feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to over there,” Hornish said. “There was a reason I left. The reason wasn’t monetary, it was a challenge (in NASCAR). Yeah, there might be more of a challenge going back there now because I’ve been out of it for seven years.

“I just feel like what would be the point to where you could possibly tarnish a career that you won in almost 20 percent of the events you ran and won half the full-time championships that you ran when you focused on it.

“And then you look at the safety fact of it, too. I got a lot of people that I need to take care of in my life, and racing in general for me is probably a little bit of a selfish thing because I probably don’t need to do it, but I want to. So, I have to sit back and think about as far as my family life goes, everything worked out exactly the way it needed to for this year.”

There’s one other thing, as well.

Even when he was tearing up the IndyCar circuit, Hornish admits he never felt he got the respect he deserved.

“When I started racing over there, (people said) ‘You’re not good enough.’ When I won the championship (people said), ‘You didn’t have any competition. Wait till Penske comes along.’ You went with Penske (and people said), ‘Well, that wasn’t enough competition, wait for Ganassi.’ Okay, you almost won again, now it’s about the road courses. Okay, you won a championship with the road courses and you won the Indy 500, now what’s the challenge anymore?”

In a sense, Hornish has found a sense of peace in NASCAR that he didn’t have in Indy cars. And now with the new opportunity with JGR, there’s no looking back or lamenting on what was or what might have been.

“After everything gets calmed down for a couple months, I’m going to go racing,” he said. “It’s a weird thing to say, but it’s all happening kind of for the right reason.

“Call it divine intervention or just the way things worked out, or maybe in my mind I worked things to be able to get myself into this position. I want to be out there racing more, but I’m okay with where I’m at, too.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Dale Jr.’s 21 races with Nationwide primary sponsorship revealed

    Feb 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Federated Auto Parts 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 21-race lineup with Nationwide Insurance as primary sponsor has been announced.

  2. Remembering new NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau’s time on an IndyCar pit crew (VIDEO)

    Feb 1, 2015, 2:15 PM EST

    Credit: NBC Sports/Mandt Bros. Productions Credit: NBC Sports/Mandt Bros. Productions

    The late NFL legend helped Target Chip Ganassi Racing during the 2009 IndyCar weekend at Sonoma as part of his “Sports Jobs with Junior Seau” TV show.

  3. Rosberg delighted by trouble-free day for Mercedes

    Feb 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Nico Rosberg AP

    German driver completes a mammoth 157 laps on day one in Jerez, suggesting Mercedes’ bid to improve its reliability for 2015 has been a successful one.

  4. Ryan Dungey gets first Supercross win of season at Anaheim III

    Feb 1, 2015, 1:45 PM EST

    ryan_dungey_supercross_2015_anaheim3 Getty Images

    Ryan Dungey and Cooper Webb both won in Anaheim to retain the points lead in their respective classes.

  5. IndyCar: Ganassi set for engineering shuffle

    Feb 1, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Day 1 Getty Images

    Engineering changes set for CGR’s IndyCar program in 2015.

  6. NASCAR: Kevin “Bono” Manion named crew chief for Alex Bowman, No. 7 team

    Feb 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    Credit: Pilot/Flying J Racing (@PFJRacing) Credit: Pilot/Flying J Racing (@PFJRacing)

    Manion has won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, and two Xfinity Series championships as a crew chief during his career.

  7. Ricciardo feels a step forward with new Red Bull car

    Feb 1, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    Australian driver enjoys a solid first day of testing in Jerez, completing more laps than the team managed in four days at last year’s opening test.

  8. First significant running of Lotus E23 delayed until Tuesday

    Feb 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EST

    © Lotus F1 Team © Lotus F1 Team

    New car only arrived in Spain on Sunday evening after being fired up in the factory on Saturday.

  9. Dennis: McLaren set for livery change during 2015

    Feb 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Fernando Alonso AP

    McLaren CEO confirms that there will be a change in design at some point this year, but refuses to say when.

  10. Vettel fastest for Ferrari on day one of Jerez test

    Feb 1, 2015, 11:05 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    German driver makes a good start to life with Ferrari, but it is Mercedes who puts in the performance of the day with an incredible 157 laps completed.

  11. Heartache of 2014 defeat motivates Rosberg for new season

    Feb 1, 2015, 10:45 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    German driver wants to avoid a repeat of his last race defeat to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in 2014.

  12. Momentum and expectations high at Williams for 2015

    Feb 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

    Bottas Massa 12 Getty Images

    After storming to third place in the constructors’ championship in 2014, Williams must now consolidate its rise and push for race wins.

  13. Horner praises “exciting and dynamic” Red Bull line-up

    Feb 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    Red Bull - Meet The 2015 Drivers Getty Images

    As the post-Vettel era begins at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat prepare to step up to the plate.

  14. Mercedes leaving no stone unturned in bid for a second world title

    Feb 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EST

    Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg AP

    Technical chief Paddy Lowe working on improved reliability in 2015 after some issues last season.

  15. Mercedes and Williams unveil 2015 cars as F1 testing begins

    Feb 1, 2015, 5:00 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    F1 pre-season gets underway in Jerez with the first public test.

  16. Red Bull RB11 launched in camouflage testing livery

    Feb 1, 2015, 4:35 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    Something out of the ordinary from Red Bull as pre-season testing begins in Jerez, Spain.

  17. Jimmie Johnson likes new Chase format, but misses the one that brought him six championships

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:09 PM EST

    jimmie johnson 2015 media tour AP AP

    Given the way the 2014 season turned out for him, Jimmie Johnson would have preferred to see the old Chase for the Sprint Cup format rather than the new elimination format.

  18. NHRA: Alan Johnson Racing moves forward without Al-Anabi

    Jan 31, 2015, 5:13 PM EST

    Alan Johnson (Photo courtesy AlanJohnsonRacing.com) Alan Johnson (Photo courtesy AlanJohnsonRacing.com)

    With Al-Anabi Racing now defunct, team owner Alan Johnson has picked up the remnants and intends on racing one Top Fuel dragster, with 2013 champ Shawn Langdon behind the wheel, in at least the first two races of the 2015 season.

  19. Jeff Gordon: Chase Elliott is ‘right guy’ to keep driving No. 24

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:01 PM EST

    jeff gordon no. 24 Getty Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon wanted to see his successor continue on the legacy of the No. 24 car. Chase Elliott is happy to continue that tradition.

  20. Gutierrez enjoying life with Ferrari in third driver role

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    Ferrari Car Launch Getty Images

    Mexican driver is excited for the return of his home grand prix in November, even if he won’t be racing.

More from NASCAR America

Elliott: 'Common bond' unites inductees
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. C. Elliott (1845)
  2. R. Blaney (1316)
  3. J. Gordon (1308)
  4. C. Custer (1295)
  5. C. Eggleston (1284)
  1. R. Chastain (1247)
  2. N. Drake (1221)
  3. B. McReynolds (1211)
  4. A. Almirola (1086)
  5. K. Larson (1037)