Sam Hornish Jr. battled to the final lap for multiple IndyCar championships in his open-wheel career, and he came away with three of them. But next weekend, he’ll be looking to notch his first NASCAR Nationwide Series title.
Hornish kept his hopes alive with a fifth-place finish today at Phoenix International Raceway, and while he’d like to have a closer gap than the eight-point deficit he has to NNS points leader Austin Dillon, the Ohio native is itching to head to Homestead-Miami Speedway and settle the fight.
“I think we’re ready,” Hornish said in post-race this evening. “We started working on our car for [Homestead] last week, so we got a little bit of a head start because our Phoenix car was already on its way out here. I feel like we’ve got a great opportunity down there.
“Eight points is a little bit more than I would liked to have to overcome, but from the time that the race started today until lap 200, it’s better than I thought it was gonna be, so I’m real happy with the determination that everybody put up.”
Hornish benefited Saturday from a call to leave him out under a caution with around 70 laps to go, which enabled him to grab track position after he had been on the fringes of the Top 10. The strategy gamble paid off, as Hornish was able to keep toward the front before coming home fifth.
Now, it’s all coming down to the final race of the year for himself and Dillon. That experience in itself is nothing new for Hornish, who claimed his second and third IndyCar titles (2002 and 2006, respectively) in season finales.
But when asked about the potential usefulness he could draw from those past wars, Hornish didn’t seem to put too much into it.
“Even back then, I just kind of went into the races and I did what I felt was necessary on those given days,” he said.
Hornish has had to endure some tough times during his transition to stock-car racing. But after a rocky start in the Sprint Cup ranks, he’s been able to perform well since going to full-time racing in the Nationwide Series.
However, he still doesn’t have a program lined up for 2014, which is why he’s hoping more for an opportunity instead of pure validation should he win the NNS title.
“I feel like this last year has shown something that I’ve known for a while, and it’s just me being able to back it up with the results,” he said. “We don’t have as many wins as we’d like to at this point, but I feel like being able to go out there and race against top level Cup guys and to race the way that we did today and throughout the season I feel pretty good about that.
“I’ve got my head held high on that one and we’re gonna continue to work hard to try to figure out how to continue to be in this sport as long as I can.”