Sideways Sam: Can Hornish Jr. Get on Track

By Aaron Burns

Sam Hornish Jr. was a star in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He was a star in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, too.

So, what’s happened? Hornish’s results in open-wheel and lower-tier NASCAR series didn’t translate to success in his first Sprint Cup go-around from 2008-‘10.

That was excusable.

He was still getting used to the heavier Cup cars. But Hornish hasn’t gotten up to speed this time around, either, and it’s a mystery as to why.

Hornish’s No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford finished a respectable 12th in February’s Daytona 500. In the five races thereafter, he wound up 21st, 24th, 40th, 43rd and 32nd.

Granted, some of it is just bad luck: The last-place finish came after Trevor Bayne hit Hornish’s car at Auto Club Speedway and severely damaged the right front. There wasn’t much that Hornish could do but lament being in the accident.

He’s also new to the Gen 6 chassis. Hornish had only two starts in it before the season began.

But this isn’t a good look. Hornish replaced another non-traditional NASCAR driver, Australian V8 Supercar star Marcos Ambrose, who took the No. 9 to two wins in his tenure at RPM.

Hornish has the résumé to be highly competitive. He has the right attitude, too. But it’s certainly taking longer than Hornish figured it would. He was ebullient in his praise of the car before the season began.

The same optimism went for car owner Richard Petty, who figured this was the best signing he could get to pair with Aric Almirola.

And it is. I still believe that Hornish deserves to be in Sprint Cup. He’s proven himself to be a force in every other series of which he’s been a part. He’s marketable, he has charisma and he’s won an Indianapolis 500.

But not even Indy has been kind to Hornish in Sprint Cup: He’s got one top-20 finish, a 16th in 2002, in four starts at the Brickyard.

Hornish hasn’t yet posted the results anyone envisioned. There’s still time for he and his team to turn it around, though.

But the hourglass isn’t stopping.