NASCAR: Sam Hornish Jr. officially confirmed at RPM

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Richard Petty Motorsports has officially confirmed Sam Hornish Jr. as driver of its No. 9 Ford for 2015 and beyond in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It follows a report yesterday that the deal was done.

Hornish will replace Marcos Ambrose, who is in his final season at RPM. Ambrose will return to his native Australia and to the V8 Supercars series — where he won the 2003 and 2004 championships — and will race in 2015 for a team partly owned by legendary motorsports owner Roger Penske.

Hornish, who has run only a part-time schedule this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, sees strong potential for him and RPM as a whole.

“The best way to put that is I have an opportunity to work for Richard Petty,” Hornish said in a Wednesday morning press conference. “I look at the effort they put into this, there was never a point of no effort. But the way both cars are running, for me, this is a great opportunity to help build something. Whenever it’s time for me to hang up my gloves, the question wouldn’t be what drew you here. It’s a place to be.”

Hornish, who signed a multi-year deal with RPM, has now worked for three of the most well-known and successful names in NASCAR and motorsports history.

“This means a lot to me,” Hornish said. “I look at my racing career and have been blessed to work with icons in motorsports, the King (Richard Petty), part-time job working for the Coach (Joe Gibbs) and the Captain (Roger Penske) in the past.”

This will be a multiyear deal, RPM director of motorsports Sammy Johns confirmed. Drew Blickensderfer continues as crew chief.

“He’ll be a great fit, he’s a great race car driver, hungry to get back,” Johns said of Hornish. “He should be a great fit with Aric and the 43 team. Working with other Ford teams as well. … We’re not where we want to be yet. But our ownership is committed to this race team and the improvements.”

In a sense, RPM is an opportunity that not only has Hornish sought, it’s also been a long time coming. He never realized his full potential while going back and forth between Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series at Penske Racing, while he was in only a part-time role for Joe Gibbs Racing this season in the Nationwide Series after almost winning the championship last season.

Hornish said there’s no ill will directed at anyone at his two prior NASCAR stops, just an enthusiasm that potentially the third time will be the charm for him and his Cup career aspirations.

“I’m not gonna talk bad about anybody, but it didn’t work,” Hornish said of his two prior stints. “The thing I need to be thankful for is staying in the fold long enough to have the opportunity to be in a competitive Cup ride.

“I’ve worked four years to get back to this point, and I feel as a driver I’ve come a long way. I have found my voice in terms of what you need to have. Being at two cars, I fully expect Aric and I to get on the same page, have a common goal or direction in what we expect. I’ll need to find my voice within the team. But when you can get two drivers on the same page it bodes well for the organization.”

Hornish is eager to get started, saying that all the positives already in place at RPM made his decision to join the organization a relatively easy one.

“The No. 9 team, having the opportunity to work with Drew Blickensderfer, Aric (RPM teammate Aric Almirola) and the 43 team, there’s a lot of people putting in a lot of hours, Sammy and all the guys are trying to push this organization forward,” Hornish said, adding that he’s also looking forward to “being a part of something that’s building. They continue to position themselves.”

Although still committed to finishing out his part-time race schedule with JGR, Hornish hopes to potentially

“I’m looking forward to getting in there, and there’s a lot to do getting fitted for the car,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get some opportunities to drive (for RPM) before the end of the season.

“Figure out a gameplan, things I like versus what Airc likes, the more time where they’re at, it’s like getting a head start. Other people might not have that opportunity being out full-time, it’s a ltitle bit advantageous to get a head start.”

One crucial point still in the works is sponsorship for Hornish’s car for the 2015 season, following the losses of DEWALT and STANLEY to Joe Gibbs Racing. Twisted Tea is committed and other commercial partners are being determined, Johns said.

But the addition of Hornish could also be a significant selling point now to attract additional sponsors, particularly the fact that he’s a former three-time IndyCar champ and the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner.

“Sam’s demeanor fits well with RPM,” Johns said. “With a two-car team we’ll operate as one.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.