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Sam Hornish Jr. is in the midst of his most successful season since coming to NASCAR from IndyCar in 2008. He’s currently fourth in the Nationwide standings in his first full-time season in that series, with one pole, nine top-5′s and 19 top-10′s. In 14 Sprint Cup races this season, Hornish has a best finish of fifth at Watkins Glen and four additional finishes of 12th or better.
While at Richmond International Raceway in September, I had the chance to interview Hornish, who is truly one of the good guys of NASCAR. Everyone I spoke with had good things to say about him.
Hornish was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the chance to interview, even though this interview took place right after the announcement that Joey Logano would be taking over the No. 22 Penske Cup ride in 2013, rather than Hornish, who is running the car for the remainder of 2012.
Q. What tracks are you looking forward to most over the rest of the season?
“I felt that we were pretty good at Kentucky, Chicago as well earlier this year. Phoenix is another place that I like, so I don’t know, I don’t look at any track as a big hurdle that we have to get over. The only place that I feel like I have a bigger possibility for difficulty is really just Homestead, which is one we haven’t been tremendously strong at.”
Q. How do you feel about your team’s chances to make up some ground and win the Nationwide title?
“Well, Richmond wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We’re going to keep moving forward, try to do the best we can. You’ll have days like that and there wasn’t a whole lot about the incident that we could control. Unfortunately we got boxed in, beating and banging, and got a left rear tire cut down. I was trying to get down out of traffic quick, and it’s just unfortunate. The guys worked hard to get us back out there, and while we didn’t get any extra points, we kept it to zero DNF’s on the season, so that’s good.”
Q. What’s your take on the state of racing at Talladega right now?
(laughs) “Just about anything can happen. I’d like there to be a little bit more of the old pack racing kind of stuff, and not necessarily the two-car tandem. Right now it’s like, you get a pack, but it’s a pack of two-car tandems. It’s more about who you are and who’s your buddy, versus who’s got the better car out there.”
Q. What’s your goal for the rest of your season as far as driving the No. 22 car in Cup?
“Just to keep improving. I think we’ve come from 24th or 25th in points to right now we’ve got a strong possibility to be in the top 20, so we’ve going to keep working away at that. We’re really proud of all the guys keeping their head in the game and that’s what I’m going to try to do, get the car in the top 20 in points, because it does mean a lot for these guys. They’ve had a tough season for sure. When I first got in this car I said I want to have at least two top-10′s in the races I run, and we’ve had fifth, 11th, 12th, you know, we’ve had plenty of races where we’ve felt like we could do that. It’s my goal and I’d like to see us get those top-10′s.”
Q. What are your plans for next season?
We don’t know yet, except that I’ll be racing somewhere. We’ve got a great sponsor with Alliance Truck Parts and they should be on board for some Nationwide events. I like the Nationwide Series and I’d love to be in the Cup series as well, but you’ve got to keep yourself in the game. I’m not getting younger but we’ve got some really good people around us and if we can continue to move forward that would be a great thing.
Q. Are you considering a return to IndyCar next season?
“No. Maybe to go watch a race or something like that, but I came over here and did this because I had done everything I had wanted to do over there, so there’s not really a whole lot to go back for.”
Q. How has the fan experience been for you in NASCAR compared to IndyCar where you were a series champion?
“It’s definitely different, but I still get a lot of encouragement from fans and people that I see out there, and it’s been even better this year than it has been. And even with the tough news that we got this week–I had already known it, but when it’s publicized it’s a little different because you get everybody that wants to talk to you about it. A lot of different people told me they wish the decision had been different or whatever, so all the support from my fan base and even some of the other drivers, so it’s good because people don’t have to say anything about it.”
Q. How important to your career do you consider your friendship with Roger Penske and his commitment to and support for you as a driver, be it in open-wheel racing or stock cars?
“I always was a fan of the Penske cars growing up and even had a dream of driving for Roger, and to have that opportunity was great. I feel like there’s been a lot done for me by this organization and Roger, and I feel like I’ve done a lot for them as well. Even if it’s just being the guy that they can count on to clean up or do whatever they need done, they know that I’m a team player.”
Q. Have you been following IndyCar this year? What are your thoughts on the title fight between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power?
“Will been in this position a few times over the past couple years and unfortunately it hasn’t worked out for him. I feel like he’s got a real great opportunity this year. He just needs to keep the car clean and make sure he takes care of it until the last little bit of the race and figure out how to get himself that championship. I know that Roger and those guys have been working real hard to be able to get there and hopefully they’ll be able to get the job done this year.”
Q. What are some of your passions in life, and what do you enjoy doing during the off season?
“I like doing all kinds of stuff. I build things, spend time with my wife and kids, and just a lot of different things. Probably one of the biggest things is catching up on all the things that I haven’t gotten to do for the past nine or 10 months. During the racing season you’re kind of just going, going, going. You’ve got Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s all in our off season, but we’re still running around doing things for our sponsors. Getting our pictures taken, preparing the hero card for next year, doing appearances, and then you fit in all your family stuff, but it’s a great time of year and something that I always look forward to. This year we’ve spent a lot of time in North Carolina and to be able to go back to Ohio for the holidays is going to be a lot of fun, just to be back and to see my brother and my sisters and mom and dad and in-laws and to catch up with some friends would be good.”
Thank you, Sam, for taking the time to do this interview!