Hornish eager entering Nationwide race at Kentucky
SPARTA, Ky. (AP) As Sam Hornish Jr. ponders his next move in stock cars, he's prepared to make the most of his last scheduled ride this season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series runner-up will make his eighth series start of 2014 and seventh in JGR's No. 54 Toyota Camry in Saturday night's 300-mile, stand-alone race at Kentucky Speedway. It will be Hornish's first start since an engine issue left him 30th in last month's road race at Mid-Ohio after starting on the pole.
The former three-time IndyCar Series champion considers Kentucky's bumpy 1.5-mile oval a good place for him on many levels. He has four top-10 Nationwide finishes in as many starts here - including fourth last fall with 65 laps led - along with two open-wheel wins.
Hornish also is driving the car he won in at Iowa this summer and which Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch claimed victory with at Richmond two weeks ago. Busch was third in the No. 54 last week at Chicagoland Speedway and led six times for a race-high 141 laps.
How does that make Hornish feel about earning his first Kentucky win in NASCAR?
''I hope to check off that box of things to do,'' Hornish said Friday.
Hornish added this about Kentucky: ''It's a fun racetrack, it really fits into the ones I like. I feel like the bumpier the race track is, the more coarse the asphalt is from being weathered, it brings the driver back into it a little bit more. ... This is a place I really enjoy coming to.''
Hornish stood fourth after Friday's final practice at 174.944 mph. Qualifying is Saturday afternoon with the green flag scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Being a part-timer seems to work for the 35-year-old, who lost his ride with Penske Racing after last season with no sponsor.
While the Defiance, Ohio, native's competitive side yearns for a full-time NASCAR ride, he's also the married father of three and relishes his family time. Hornish has examined other possibilities and acknowledged that those have included the coming vacancy in Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 car. But he said his next ride would have to be the right situation.
He insists that he still has ''a lot going on'' between testing, public appearances and TV commentary on the IndyCar series. But until Hornish finds something that fits, he's happy learning things from a different perspective with JGR.
''I can't tell you exactly what I want right now,'' said Hornish, who's trying to stay in shape as he considers his options. ''The perfect thing is not available. I'd like to be full time next year; I want to put myself in a good place with good opportunities, good people around it.
''That was one of the great things about being able to come to Joe Gibbs Racing, just to see how things are run a little bit differently,'' Hornish said. ''For me, while a lot of people might have taken things harder, I just enjoyed the fact of getting a little bit of a new outlook on life and what's going on around me.''
Part-timer Cale Conley, 22, who has made eight Nationwide and three K&N Pro Series East starts this season, topped the speed charts in the final practice at 175.404 mph in Richard Childress Racing's No. 33 Chevrolet. He finished 11th in his series debut at Bristol, Tennessee, in March.