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.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.