For perhaps the first time in a long time, Sam Hornish Jr. finds himself in the right place and at the right time.
Hornish was announced Wednesday morning as the replacement for Marcos Ambrose in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Ford Fusion for the 2015 season.
Ambrose will be leaving RPM at the end of this season to return to his native Australia and to race in the V8 Supercars series, where he’s a two-time past champion. In addition, Ambrose will be driving for a team in which legendary motorsports owner Roger Penske – who was Hornish’s long-time boss in NASCAR – owns a significant chunk of the pie.
But this isn’t about Ambrose, it’s about Hornish – and with good reason.
Hornish finally has the one thing he’s been seeking for most of the last four seasons in the NASCAR world: career stability.
At RPM, Hornish will have an opportunity to grow and continue a building process that began with Ambrose in the No. 9.
But more important, he’ll have a future that’s secure – and a place he can potentially hang his hat at and eventually retire from maybe 15 years from now.
Perhaps because he has been around IndyCar and NASCAR racing for such a long time, many race fans might have the impression Hornish is older than he is.
The Defiance, Ohio native is only 35 years old. Heck, he’s practically in the prime of his racing career.
It’s not every day that a race car driver has an opportunity to hit the reset button on his career and get another chance like the kind Hornish is getting at RPM.
That’s why this opportunity makes so much sense for both Hornish and RPM.
Plus, it also puts Sam in a very unique class, having driven for three of the biggest names in motorsports: Petty, Penske and Gibbs.
Now is the time for Hornish to look forward, but there’s certainly the back story that needs to be mentioned.
He came to Team Penske with high hopes and an outstanding resume, including three IndyCar championships and a victory in the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
But it was admittedly a struggle for Hornish to make the adjustment from sleek and fast open-wheel cars to the more plodding Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars.
After just 11 Nationwide Series starts and two Sprint Cup starts, Hornish was moved up to the Sprint Cup series in 2008. Unfortunately, he struggled in his three full-time campaigns, finishing 35th in his rookie Cup campaign in 2008, 28th in 2009 and 29th in 2010.
When sponsorship evaporated after the 2010 season, so too did Hornish’s ride. He moved back to the Nationwide Series for more seasoning from 2011 through 2013, with a half-season return to Cup in 2012 to fill in for the suspended AJ Allmendinger that again didn’t work out.
Rather than getting Allmendinger’s former ride full-time in 2013, Hornish watched as his seat in the No. 22 Ford was given to Joey Logano.
It was back to the NNS in ’13, where things took a dramatic turn for the good. Hornish challenged for the series championship and, if he would have had maybe one or two higher finishes, would have ultimately won the title rather than finishing second as he did.
Even with such a lofty finish, the best season of his NNS career, Hornish and Team Penske parted ways after last season, leaving him with only a part-time NNS ride and schedule with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2014.
But the move to Richard Petty Motorsports is perhaps the best thing that could ever have happened for Hornish.
He’s a respected driver who has battled back from bad luck and bad circumstances. And after all that, Hornish is living proof that good things do happen to good people.
Sometimes, it just takes a while.
But now that he’s part of a company with perhaps the most prestigious name and history in motorsports, Sam Hornish Jr. has emerged from grey clouds of uncertainty – and from here on out it’ll hopefully be sunshine and blue skies – Petty Blue, of course.
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