Southsider Voice correspondent
Two icons from different realms of motor racing are together for the first time. Sam Hornish Jr., the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, now drives for NASCAR icon and team owner Richard Petty in the Sprint Cup Series. Hornish replaces Australian Marcos Ambrose, who returned to his homeland to compete in a stock car series for Roger Penske.
Penske brought Hornish into Sprint Cup competition in 2008. Hornish raced three years for Penske but then became a journeyman. He later wound up in the Xfinity Series and was second in points in 2013. For two years Hornish, 35, searched for a full-time ride in both series. He first talked with Petty at the end of 2010, and last year at Watkins Glen decided to team together in the No. 9 Ford for 2015.
“He’s an aggressive driver; he’s the driver that we need,” Petty said at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Tour in late January.
“My goal is to finish as many laps as I can,” Hornish said. “This isn’t about trying to make an 18th-place team a first-place team. We will look at each quarter (nine races) and see how we can improve.”
Neither Hornish nor Petty, as an owner, has caused big ripples in Sprint Cup. Hornish was 15th in points in 2008. Hornish has won four Xfinity races but has only nine top 10 finishes in 131 Cup starts. His best Cup finish was fourth in August 2009 at Pocono.
No double for Danica
Never say never.
That’s the way Danica Patrick still considers the possibility of doing The Double – the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 – on the same day.
Kurt Busch, one of her Stewart-Hass teammates, pulled it off last year and claimed Rookie of the Year laurels in the 500.
“Kurt did a wonderful job,” Patrick said. “He was really smart at Indy, and he had a great time doing it.”
Patrick, who led in her first 500, inferred that the Indianapolis 500 keeps fading in her rear-view mirror the longer she competes in NASCAR.
“The farther I get away from it, the less I want to do it. Being in position to have a chance to win it every year I was there was something great; I don’t want to do anything to take away from that or from what I accomplished there.”
Hornish teams with Petty for first time
Penske favors NASCAR’s increased surveillance of pit stops this season. Officials will utilize 46 high-definition cameras to identify and review pit road violations.
“It (NASCAR officiating) has always been the red herring,” he said. “So much is won or lost on pit road,
and to have it under this kind of scrutiny by NASCAR is a good thing.”
Referring to video replay for other professional sports, Penske added, “This is ‘cutting edge.’ To see NASCAR going away from a stopwatch and whistle and using this technology takes us to the next level.”
He also agrees with NASCAR czar Brian France that The Chase format should be left alone although driver Joey Logano would have been the champion had last year been run under 2013 rules. Penske also supported driver Brad Keselowski in the aftermath of his altercations on pit lane and behind the pits last year. Keselowski won
a season-high six races.
“The dust up with (Jeff) Gordon), to me, was blown out of context,” Penske said. “When you look at it, any driver who wanted to win would have done the same thing. Brad tells you the way it is, and some people don’t like that. Look at the wins he’s given our team, and he’s been the glue that is working together with Joey.”
Keselowski provided Penske with his first Cup championship in 2012.
Ganassi’s new watches
Chip Ganassi earned early season bragging rights as his team of drivers won the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Ganassi, co-team owner Felix Sabates and Cup drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson displayed their winning Rolex watches. Their co-drivers were Indianapolis 500 winners Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, both of whom race for Target Chip Ganassi in IndyCar.
McMurray joins legends A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only three drivers who have won the 24-hour race on Daytona’s road course and the Daytona 500. Ganassi said that McMurray could attempt to do The Double.
“Certainly, we would give him the opportunity; it just hasn’t been suggested to me.”
NASCAR on TV
The Daytona 500 kicks off the Cup season Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox.
The Budweiser Duels unfold Thursday at 7 p.m. NASCAR Camping World race trucks Friday at 7:30 p.m., and the Xfinity series has a 300-mile race Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
NASCAR officials have made no changes in The Chase; win a race and a full-time Sprint Car driver is in. A new car rules package designed to allow more passing goes into effect after the Daytona
A new TV pact calls for Fox and NBC to televise Cup races this season.