JOLIET, Ill. — To some extent, Sam Hornish Jr. is uncomfortable with the idea that he is benefiting from another driver’s adversity. That won’t stop him from jumping on another chance to race in the Sprint Cup Series.
Given Hornish’s own struggles in NASCAR the past few seasons, the former IndyCar ace is thankful for any chance to redeem himself – even if it took AJ Allmendinger’s failed drug test to give Hornish another shot.
“After going through what I went through in the last year, I don’t wish anybody any ill will,” Hornish said. “But we’re not turning sponsors away, teams aren’t turning sponsors away. You’ve got to be very thankful for what you have right now and the opportunities you’ve been given. However I get it, I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
NASCAR suspended Allmendinger hours before the July 7 race at Daytona for failing a random drug test taken at the end of June. His second urine sample will be tested today, a critical moment that will likely determine Allmendinger’s long-term future.
Allmendinger has said he tested positive for a stimulant, but not revealed the exact substance.
With Allmendinger in limbo, Hornish has driven the past two Cup races in the No. 22 Cup car in addition to his full-time duties for Penske in the Nationwide Series. If Allmendinger ends up being cleared this week, he’d likely get his ride back.
If not, Hornish could get the chance to chance to race in the Cup Series the rest of the season.
Hornish said he hasn’t spoken to Allmendinger.
“The way I look at it is, you know, what am I going to say to him?” Hornish said. “Obviously, I don’t have any ill will or anything toward him. So it’s a tough situation for everybody, because we’re all trying to figure out what’s going to happen and nobody knows.”
For now, Hornish doesn’t even know if he’ll be in the Cup car at Indianapolis this weekend.
“I don’t know how that all plays out,” Hornish said. “They’re going to go planning on having me in the car, but I don’t know, that could change or anything like that. At least, if something comes back on Wednesday, they could make changes. At this point, they have to plan on me running it this week.”
Hornish will run Saturday’s Nationwide race at Indy either way, taking him back to the site of his biggest moment – a victory in the 2006 Indy 500. Getting to run Sunday’s Cup race would be a bonus.
“I’m trying not to get my hopes up because I really want to go run that race,” Hornish said. “But the great thing about it is, I’m going to get to race there regardless.”
Hornish says he has learned from his struggles in NASCAR, which left him without a full-time ride last season.
Now back running a Nationwide schedule for Penske, he hopes to use a run of consistent performances to prove to sponsors and teams that he deserves another shot in the Cup. After an eighth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday – he led 22 laps before getting shuffled back in the pack on pit strategy – Hornish is fourth in the series standings and 42 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.
Hornish said not having a full-time ride in 2011 after three crash-filled and inconsistent seasons allowed him to spend more time with his family and spend more time observing other drivers.
“Sitting on the side of the pool instead of trying to figure out how keep my head above water was definitely something that allowed me to learn,” Hornish said.
Running a partial Nationwide schedule for Penske in 2011, Hornish won at Phoenix to regain some confidence.
“OK, I’m not really that screwed up,” he said.
Racing full-time in Nationwide this season has cost him time with his family – he’s still trying to finish off a tree house for his daughters to play in – but he wants to do as much racing as possible to continue his development.
Ideally, he’d get to run full time in the Cup Series next season, with a large Nationwide schedule to give him more track time. But his main goal is making sure he has a full-time ride somewhere.
He believes his past experience and current success in Nationwide will be attractive to sponsors, but realizes he has to do a better job selling himself.
“It’s a tough thing, because I’m not one to really talk myself up,” Hornish said. “Sometimes I feel like I even need to kick myself in the butt a little bit to be like, ‘All right, emphasize how good of a person you are.’ I’d rather undersell and overdeliver.”