Hornish falls short in quest for Nationwide crown

2 Comments

Three-time IndyCar Series champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. will have to wait another year before he can attain some more hardware. But after losing the NASCAR Nationwide Series title to Austin Dillon tonight by a scant three points, the next focus for Hornish is just attaining a ride for the 2014 season.

The future is uncertain for the pride of Defiance, Ohio, who entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway down eight points but led the championship for much of the Ford Ecoboost 300 before Dillon claimed just enough positions late to swing the title back to him.

The final caution of the night had a critical impact on Hornish. With 17 laps to go, the yellow came out with Regan Smith, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Clements among those involved in a multi-car crash. But the clean-up took longer than anticipated, and by the time the green resumed, there were only five laps remaining.

In the final dash to the finish, both Hornish and Dillon dropped multiple positions but it was Dillon that wound up with the championship. Had the two tied in points at the end of 200 laps, Hornish would have had the tie-breaker thanks to his sole win this season at Las Vegas.

“We missed it having that late-race caution…On the last restart, the 54 [Kyle Busch] spun his tires a little bit and we didn’t have anywhere to go,” Hornish told ESPN. “We couldn’t get far enough ahead of those guys that were taking four tires. That’s how it worked out for us tonight.”

“We gave away points at different times throughout the season between the driver making mistakes and everybody on this team had a part in making us better a lot of days. We all had a hand in not being the best that we possibly could’ve been everyday. But we win as a team and lose as a team…We just needed a little bit more.”

Now comes the hard part. Hornish had a strong season driving the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford in the NNS, earning 16 Top-5s and 25 Top-10s. But he believes that he’s ready for a return to the Sprint Cup series and unfortunately for him, there is no funding in place at Penske to fuel the move up.

It’s a bizarre situation. Hornish has begun to regularly contend for wins in the stock cars after a rocky transition from IndyCar. And he’s ever determined to cement his place in NASCAR, going so far as to say he had no interest in replacing Dario Franchitti at Target Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar after, according to him, TCGR reached out to his representatives this week.

One hopes that something comes through for Hornish in the NASCAR ranks, whether it’s a full-time program or even a plum part-time ride. In the meantime, his fans will have to cross their fingers.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”