For eight years, from 2001 to 2007, Sam Hornish Jr. competed in the Verizon IndyCar series for three different teams. Each year saw Hornish attempt to capture an Indianapolis 500 win. Then, in 2006, Hornish passed Marco Andretti on the last lap to win the 90th running of race.
Life is much different now for the Ohio native, nine years after he kissed the bricks.
“It’s often tough to remember a whole lot about IndyCar racing,” Hornish told reporters Wednesday. “I was only married for a couple of years at that point in time without any kids. Pretty much spent all my time in Ohio that I wasn’t at a race track.”
In 2008, Hornish made the jump to NASCAR to race in the Sprint Cup Series for Penske. After bouncing back and forth between the Cup and Xfinity Series for years, Hornish is back full-time in the former with Richard Petty Motorsports.
“Now, we’re running 38 races a year, (have) three kids and live in North Carolina,” Hornish said. “It seems like a different lifetime, not so much a life time ago.”
Hornish and his team were at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the Sprint Cup’s testing for the Brickyard 400 on July 26. While he competed in the Sprint Cup race at IMS four times for Penske, he’s never came close to equaling his 2006 success in IndyCar, finishing no better than 16th.
Hornish’s has won only three times in Xfinity Series. But the lack of consistent success doesn’t have the 35-year-old yearning to recreate his open-wheel success. At least not anytime soon.
“Everytime I think about the possibility of coming back, there’s something that pops up that tells me it’s not time to do that or its not the right thing to do,” Hornish said. “I still don’t feel like I’ve done what was trying to accomplish over here on the stock car side yet. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done with that. If I felt that I could get to the point being where I wanted to be competitively over here, there might be that opportunity.”
Hornish said it’s almost easier on himself as a driver to not return for a one-off appearance in the Indy 500 and that he get’s to enjoy the race like he did as a kid watching it on TV in Defiance, Ohio.
“When the race is over, if I like who won, I’ll watch the interview. If I don’t, I’ll change the channel and I don’t have to think about it for the next 12 months,” Hornish said. “(As a driver) it is definitely a lot easier not carrying it with you all year long, waiting for the next one to come along, because whether you do good or bad, you just sit there for the next 364 days and prepare. It takes up a lot of your time when you’re a driver.”
Another part of Hornish’s legacy is that he is just one of two American-born drivers to win the Indy 500 since Buddy Rice in 2004, with Ryan Hunter-Reay the last in 2014. Hornish was asked what it meant to him to see Josef Newgarden, a Tennessee native, win his first IndyCar race on Sunday.
“I’m sure Josef would say ahead of me, it’s been a long time coming,” Hornish said. “He’s definitely had the speed at a lot of different race tracks where you thought it was just around the corner, but it was being able to put the whole puzzle together.”
What made it even better, Hornish believes, is the win came from driver on a small team, Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing, and not a large, four-team operation.
“If you look at the ownership of the team, with Ed (Carpenter) and Sarah (Fisher), those things (and) Drivers that have wanted to move to that next step of being part of it, I think it’s good for the sport in general to be able get those kind of teams to victory lane,” Hornish said.