I think most of us saw this one coming.
After three unsuccessful seasons driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Penske Championship Racing, former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. is reportedly done with the team. At least, in NASCAR.
According to reports from Foxsports.com’s Jeff Hammond, Penske Racing has “cannibalized the No. 77 crew of Hornish,” as well as the #12 Nationwide team to better Brad Keselowski’s Nationwide program, as well as Keselowski’s and Kurt Busch’s Cup programs.
The report did not state whether Hornish will return to the Izod Indycar Series, where he’s had so much success, either with Penske or a different team. It also did not state that Hornish has any other jobs lined up in NASCAR, at any level.
Basically, Hornish is a free-agent, available to any form of racing.
There are several options for Hornish in NASCAR, should he choose to stay. Any available rides at the Cup level would likely be start-and-park, unless another team should open up shop before the season starts. Hornish could also race a full- or part-time schedule at the Nationwide level; a more likely scenario as rumors have linked Hornish to Brian Keselowski’s Nationwide team.
And of course, there’s always Indycars.
It’s unfortunate that things did not work out at the Cup level for Hornish and Penske. Despite several critics who believed Hornish to be one of the worst drivers in the Cup garage, he did show potential at times. In his three years with Penske, Hornish did win the Sprint Showdown in 2009, and came within just 10 laps of winning at Pocono just last season.
But Hornish had been in a pressure-cooker with the team for a long time, especially with guys like former Penske development driver Justin Allgaier chomping at the bit to get his ride. So perhaps, considering his struggles, this was inevitable. It now frees up Hornish to look elsewhere, and now the pressure to perform with such a high-caliber team is off his shoulders.
Now hopefully, Hornish can land on his feet with a good team. In some form of racing.
Update: It has now been announced that Hornish will indeed race for Penske in at least 10 Nationwide Series races, including the season-opener at Daytona. It had been thought that Penske was only going to run one Nationwide team with Brad Keselowski, but it now seems that Penske will run a second team with Hornish as the driver, for at least a partial schedule.