Finishing second by three points in the NASCAR Nationwide Series won't keep Sam Hornish Jr with Penske Racing in 2014 after the two announced they will part ways. The split comes after the two have been together for the past 10 seasons.
Hornish Jr moved to Team Penske in the IndyCar Series for the 2004 season after leaving Panther Racing where he won two championships and 11 races. With Penske he won the 2006 Indianapolis 500 and 2006 championship. He scored eight total wins with Team Penske in four seasons.
Then Hornish transitioned to the NASCAR world with the team full time in 2008 after running a few races in 2006 and 2007. He jumped full time into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and it was a struggle. He did not record a top 10 in 34 starts that season and finished 35th in points. The 2009 season showed improvement with seven top 10's and a 28th place finish in points. But then 2010 was a downturn again where he only recorded one top 10 and finished 29th in points.
Hornish lost his full time ride with Penske in 2011 but stilled raced for the team where they could find sponsorship. He competed in one Cup race and 13 Nationwide Series races. He scored his first NASCAR win at Phoenix in November of 2011 in a Nationwide race and that propelled him back to full time status in 2012 running the full Nationwide Series schedule and 20 Cup races. He finished fourth in the Nationwide Series points that season but went winless.
In 2013 Hornish was a title contender in the Nationwide Series from start to finish. He won his second career Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas in March which made him one of only a few Nationwide regulars to win in 2013. The championship came down to the closing laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday but an eighth place finish left Hornish three points behind Austin Dillon for the title. It was a sad sight to see.
The worst thing is that it wouldn't have mattered if Hornish won the championship, he would still be in the same place today looking for a 2014 ride.
Since Pesnke feels Hornish is a Cup Series caliber driver the two are parting ways. Penske does not have the sponsorship to run a third full-time Cup Series team with Hornish as the driver. Ryan Blaney is rumored to drive a partial schedule in a third Penske Cup car in 2014.
The 34-year-old Hornish wants to stay in NASCAR and does not want to go back to IndyCar even after Chip Ganassi Racing reached out about possibly filling Dario Franchitti's vacated seat.
"There's a lot of uncertainty at this point in time, but I feel as if we'll be able to make something happen,'' Hornish said. ''But, like I've said in the past, it's all about trying to position me to move forward in some way. I don't want to take any more steps backward or be in something that's not going to give me the opportunity to go out there and be competitive and have an opportunity to at least run in the top 10. It wouldn't be optimal to run a part-time schedule, but it might help me out. I might be able to go and do testing. I might be able to learn a lot of other things and to be able to forge forward and to be even better in the next go-round.''
There are virtually no competitive Sprint Cup Series rides available for 2014 so where Hornish will land still remains a mystery. Hornish has proven that he can compete at the high NASCAR level and deserves a shot from some team. Whether that ever happens again remains to be seen but a lot of people will be pulling for him.
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