Samuel Jon Hornish Jr. (born July 2, 1979 in Bryan, Ohio) is an American race car driver. He is best known for his open wheel accomplishments, which include an Indianapolis 500 victory and three Indy Racing League championships. He currently drives the #12 Alliance Truck Parts/Wurth Group Dodge Challenger for Penske Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Early career Edit
Hornish began racing at the age of 11 in Need for Speed for the Gamecube. After competing in junior leagues for various seasons, he joined the World Karting Association in 1993, winning seven races and posting twenty-nine top-five finishes. The following season, he won several championships in WKA, including the U.S. and Canadian Grand Championships, as well as the U.S. Junior Class Grand Championship. In 1995, he repeated his U.S. Grand National title and won nine races. He would move up to the United States F2000 Series, driving six races for his family-owned team, and had one top-ten finish at Watkins Glen International. He joined Bordin Racing in 1997 and had two eleventh-place finishes, before signing with Primus Racing. He had a second-place run at Pikes Peak International Raceway and finished seventh in points.
In 1999, Hornish moved to the Toyota Atlantic Series to drive for Shank Racing. He won Rookie of the Year after getting his victory at Chicago Motor Speedway. He also drove the 24 Hours of Daytona for Intersport Racing.
IRL career Edit
He first raced in the IRL in 2000 with the PDM Racing team, with a best finish of seventy seventh. However, he switched to Panther Racing for the next season and improved enough to take the title from reigning champion Buddy Lazier. In 2002 the Penske team switched from Champ Car, and Sam was able to beat their top driver Hélio Castroneves to his second title. Along the way, Hornish beat Al Unser, Jr. by .0024 of a second in the Delphi Indy 300 in Chicago, possibly the closest race in auto history until the 2007 Indy Pro Season when Logan Gomez beat teammate and champion Alex Lloyd at the same racetrack by only 0.0005 sec, or Template:Convert.
In 2003, most of the established top US open-wheel teams were now racing in the series, with Honda and Toyota providing engines superior to the established Chevrolet unit Panther used. As a result, Cosworth was called in to supply a replacement engine informally dubbed the "Chevworth", with which Sam was a winner again, finishing 5th in the 2003 standings. For 2004 he moved to Penske, winning the season-opener but finding that Honda engines, and not Penske's Toyotas, were now the engine of choice. 2005 was an improvement, as he finished third to Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan in the standings and the top placement of any driver not driving for Andretti Green Racing.
On May 28, 2006, after starting on the pole for the 2006 Indianapolis 500, Hornish became the first driver to ever overtake for the lead on the race's final lap, ultimately winning the race in the last Template:Convert by a 0.0635-second margin over rookie Marco Andretti. Also in that year, he won the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Scott Brayton Award, awarded annually to the driver best exemplifying a spirit of tenacity as well as friendliness amongst the race's participants. Hornish went on to win the 2006 IRL championship in the final race of the season by a tiebreaker over defending champ Dan Wheldon. He became the first 3-time champion in IRL history. In 2007, he only won one race at Texas, and finished fifth in points.
On October 28, 2006, Hornish announced that he would attempt to run the final two 2006 NASCAR Busch Series races for Penske Racing, as well as select events in 2007. In his first two Busch starts, Hornish wrecked his #39 Mobil 1 Dodge both times, and did not finish better than 36th. In 2007, his car was switched to the #12, and he competed in seven Busch races, his best finish being a 15th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Beginning in fall 2007, he started attempting Nextel Cup races in the #06 for Penske, and made only two races (at Phoenix International Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway).
Hornish moved up to drive the #77 for Penske in Sprint Cup in 2008 with Mobil 1 sponsorship. In his first Daytona 500 he had a great race, finishing 15th. Teammates Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch finished first and second; to giving Roger Penske his first 1,2 finish in NASCAR. After the race Roger Penske said, "It is nice to see Sam display some of his racing talent in the biggest race in NASCAR." After struggling to make his first NASCAR Cup Series events; Phoenix where he finished 30th and Homestead where he finished 37th, after the 2008 Daytona 500 he admitted that even he was surprised to see himself running in the top-10 most of the day. He also said, "I wish they would have started the race about two hours sooner, so it still could have been sunny out. If the sun had never gone down, we would have had a better chance. Once the sun goes down, everybody starts getting more and more evenly matched up, because there's not all that worry about the tires sliding around so much because of the heat."
To allow Hornish to start in the first five Sprint Cup races of the season, Penske swapped the owner points of Kurt Busch's #2 car with the #77's, which ensured Hornish of a place in each of the races as Busch's team had finished seventh in the final 2007 Nextel Cup standings (and also protected Busch in case of bad qualifying efforts as he would have been able to use the Champion's Provisional for the first five races in 2008, as the rules state that the most recent Cup champion not qualified gets into the field; Busch's 2004 championship qualified him for use of the provisional).
At the May All-Star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway Hornish finished second in the Sprint Showdown to earn a start in the All-Star race. Hornish finished 7th. Hornish would finish second in a competitive Rookie of the Year race to Regan Smith, which could not have been helped by Hornish's string of poor finishes and failure to qualify for two
As the 2009 season started, the team had high hopes for the season. However, bad luck late in 4 of the first 6 races kept Sam from being able to achieve his elusive first top 10 finish in a Sprint Cup points race. Nevertheless, he showed great improvement from 2008. Finally, on April 18 in Phoenix, he got his top 10, finishing the race in 9th place. Two races later Sam again improved on his career best finish scoring 6th in the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway. A week later, despite its being a non-points race, Hornish got his first NASCAR victory by winning the annual Sprint Showdown, which qualified him for the Sprint All-Star Race for the second year in a row. He'd go on to finish 16th in the event.
Through 24 races in 2009, while Hornish's results have improved from his rookie campaign, the team has still struggled with consistency and finishing races. In addition to his two top ten finishes early in the year, Hornish has scored 5 additional top tens (both Pocono races, New Hampshire, Michigan, and again at Richmond) and also gained his first two top five finishes with a fourth place effort in the Pennsylvania 500 and a fifth place finish at Michigan. These efforts, however, have been countered with 13 finishes of 30th or worse (with 7 of those being finishes of 35th or worse). Since his debut, Hornish has finished 30th or worse in 33 of his 62 career starts.