Roger Penske has moved to quash rumors that Sam Hornish Jr. would be dropped from his NASCAR squad at year's end. Despite the pending end of the former IndyCar star's Mobil 1 backing and his ongoing struggles in Sprint Cup competition, Penske says suggestions that Hornish would return to open-wheel are off the mark.
“We've said publicly that we want to run Sam next year; he's not going back to open-wheel racing,” Penske said. “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. Even so, Penske said the team remains committed to Hornish, who won the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar championship for the team in 2006.
"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."
Penske said he is satisfied with the pace of Hornish's progress in stock cars, noting his competitive form at last weekend's race at Watkins Glen, where he qualified 12rth and finished 14th on the lead lap.
“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 IndyCars]. 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.”
Hornish reckoned his Watkins Glen finish wasn't reflective of his performance.
"That was definitely the best car I've had on a road course since I've been in the Cup Series," said Hornish. "I'm really happy about that. We were good for a couple of laps but we need to work on our long-run speed. I felt like I gave up a lot of track position early. I figured out every five or 10 laps, I needed to give more brake to the front to keep from locking the rear up. Once we did that, it was all good.
"If we hadn't given up those spots early because I kept locking up the rear, I think we had a 10th-place car. I didn't get a good start on that last restart and gave up a couple of spots. I'm just really proud of the guys on the Mobil 1 Dodge and I'm pretty happy with the day. It went straight all day and the car really isn't beat up."