It’s not every day that a three-time IndyCar champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner literally falls into your lap.
So when Richard Petty Motorsports learned Sam Hornish Jr. might be available to fill the hole that would be created by the departure of Marcos Ambrose, RPM jumped at the chance to bring Hornish into the fold for 2015.
Hornish, who lost the 2013 Nationwide championship by three points to Austin Dillon while racing for Team Penske, won at Iowa Speedway last May during an eight-race slate in 2014 for Joe Gibbs Racing, but the Defiance, Ohio, native has been trying to return to the Sprint Cup Series since his last full season on NASCAR’s premier circuit with Penske in 2010.
When Ambrose announced last summer he would be returning to his native Australia and the V8 Supercar Series after the season, RPM began the search and settled on a deal with Hornish last October.
“Going back to the Cup series, it’s a lot different than what it was when I did it the last time,” Hornish said.
He also made 20 Sprint events for Penske in 2012, replacing AJ Allmendinger after he was suspended for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.
“I think we have a lot of things to look forward to,” Hornish said Wednesday during the third day of the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I think the only thing we’re lacking right now is we need to sit down and really set out a map of what are we going to feel comfortable with throughout the year, what are our goals going to be and figuring out how we’re going to continue to evaluate ourselves to be able to move forward and get to where we want to go.”
Hornish has driven for three of racing’s most iconic names: Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs and now Hall of Famer Richard Petty.
Hornish tested three times with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer late in 2014 before NASCAR’s testing ban took effect.
“The toughest part of this,” Hornish said, “is to have the opportunity to be able to come to Richard Petty Motorsports and then think about it for four months or so before we actually get to go out and do racing.
“With the lack of testing we’ve been able to do, we’ve only had three tests so far and to have the opportunity to work with Drew. We both seem like we want similar things on the race car. When you have a unified direction, you can streamline things at the shop as having the 9 and 43 (teammate Aric Almirola) as far as finding what direction to head and how to make our cars better each weekend.”
Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.
The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.
“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”
“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.
“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”
Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.
That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.
Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.
The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.
The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.
Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.
“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.
“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.
“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.
“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”
The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.
“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.
“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.
“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”