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.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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