Hornish will share Kyle Busch’s Nationwide ride part-time (UPDATED)

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UPDATE, 12:10 p.m. ET: Make that “potentially” below an “actually.” Sam Hornish Jr. will run at least seven races in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the team announced Monday.

Hornish will race at Talladega, both races at the now-NASCAR owned Iowa Speedway, Road America, Chicago, Mid-Ohio and Kentucky.

Sam Hornish Jr. won his second career NASCAR Nationwide Series race and finished second in this year’s championship, but despite his efforts for Penske Racing, the team was unable to secure enough sponsorship for him to continue in that seat into 2014.

So, potentially, he could join Joe Gibbs Racing in a ride-share with Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Toyota. Lee Spencer of FOXSports.com reports sources say he will.

Hornish, who has spent the last 10 years of his career with Penske, four years in IndyCar (2004-2007) and the last six in NASCAR (2008-2013), is at something of a career crossroads. He has certainly demonstrated the skills and put together the results in Nationwide over the last couple years to merit a return to the Sprint Cup ranks.

But, as several mid-field Cup contenders have found, the path back to Cup can include a detour to Nationwide. Besides Hornish, drivers like Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith and Brian Vickers stand out over the last few years. Vickers will make his Cup return with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2014. The Cup field is filled with more Nationwide graduates than in recent years, but they’re all drivers set for their first full Cup seasons (series champion Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Michael Annett among others).

Winning in a part-time situation with what would arguably be one of the best cars on the Nationwide grid – one that won 12 times in Busch’s hands in 2013 – can only boost Hornish’s stock. But it’s unfortunate that the sponsorship situation is such that this is all Hornish appears likely to race in 2014.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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