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Sam Hornish Jr. returns to Indy as Nationwide Series leader

Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Sam Hornish Jr. is back at the site of his 2006 victory in the Indianapolis 500.

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) Sam Hornish Jr. has been coming to Indianapolis for a long time. His mother went to the Indianapolis 500 when she was eight months pregnant.

This could be another special visit.

NASCAR makes its annual stop at one of racing's most historic tracks this weekend, with Hornish returning to town as the leader of the Nationwide Series. He finished second at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, wresting control of NASCAR's second-tier circuit from Regan Smith.

ESTES: Regan Smith delivering on promise in Nationwide Series

"When we looked at what the day could bring, we felt like if we just continued to go out there and run the way that we have, we're going to have good days," Hornish said.

There could be more good days to come.

Hornish had the best car for the STP 300, winning the pole and leading the first 49 laps of the race. But a penalty for speeding into pit road sent him to the back of the field, and he wasn't quite able to run down Penske teammate Joey Logano at the very end, finishing second.

Logano's 20th career Nationwide victory also came at an important time for the lone Sprint Cup regular in the field on Sunday. A pair of wrecks for the 23-year-old Logano led to disappointing results at New Hampshire and Daytona, and the Chicagoland win put a stop to that negative run.

"The last two weeks haven't gone great on the Sprint Cup side, with two tire failures," Logano said. "So to get back out and get back to Victory Lane, it builds the momentum back up. It's a big deal for next week going to Indy."

Logano has made five career starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway between NASCAR's top two circuits. He has no wins and two top 10s, but the relative lack of success hasn't diminished the appeal of the track for the driver.

"I love going to Indy, because it's Indianapolis, and it's cool," said Logano, who will compete in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races this weekend. "I'm pumped up about going there and trying to get a win."

Hornish knows what it's like to win in Indy, taking the Indianapolis 500 in 2006. The three-time IndyCar champion then made the switch to NASCAR, but his biggest racing victory still follows him around.

"It's something that's kind of in my blood, I love going back there," he said. "A lot of people ask me if I miss the Indy 500. And I don't miss it at all. Because I watch it every year from start to finish and I get the opportunity to actually enjoy it now. When I was racing in it, I took it very seriously and for about 11 months out of the year I was frustrated, why weren't we at Indianapolis and how do I win this race? And now I get to just watch it and be a fan like I was as a kid."

The 34-year-old Hornish hasn't enjoyed the same success in Indianapolis since he moved to NASCAR, with no wins and one top 10 in five career starts between the top two series. He finished second to Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide race at Indy last season.

This could be the year he returns to Victory Lane at the beloved track.

Hornish has recorded five consecutive top 10s to move into the lead in the Nationwide standings, seven points ahead of Smith. He won at Las Vegas in March, and another big win in Indy could springboard him to a series title that could help him reach his goal of returning to the Sprint Cup.

"I was glad the race didn't go any longer. I think Sam had something for him," said Jeremy Bullins, who was the crew chief for Logano's winning car at Chicagoland. "But just congratulations to everyone at Penske Racing for taking it home 1-2."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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