RESISTED The lure of NASCAR, by the Indy Racing League's two-time
defending points champion, Sam Hornish Jr. Over the last six
months Hornish had been wooed by several Winston Cup team
owners--most notably, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Joe Gibbs. Last
week he defied speculation that he would jump to NASCAR and
instead signed a three-year contract with the IRL's Team Penske.
In 2004 Hornish, 24, will take the seat of this year's Indy 500
winner, Gil de Ferran, 35, who is set to retire at the end of the
season. "I had a dream when I was 12 or 13 that I was asked to
drive for Roger Penske," says Hornish, an Ohio native who had
been driving for Panther Racing. "That dream has finally come
true. Now my goal is to win the Indy 500."
Hornish's decision to remain an open-wheel racer is a coup for
the IRL, which tends to lose its best drivers to the stock cars.
Three of NASCAR's brightest stars--Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and
Ryan Newman--left the ranks of open-wheel racing for NASCAR,
which provides greater fame and endorsement riches. Hornish,
who'll reportedly earn a base salary of $4 million a year with
Penske, says a chat with NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped him
decide. "Junior asked me what makes me more happy: driving Indy
cars or stock cars?" says Hornish. "I realized I want to be an
Indy car driver." Hornish's Penske teammate will be two-time Indy
500 champ Helio Castroneves, 28, the IRL's current points leader.
(Hornish is fifth.) Castroneves and Hornish are the league's two
most popular and successful drivers and give Team Penske a
one-two punch unparalleled in IRL's seven years of racing. "We're
replacing one champion with another," says Tim Cindric, the
president of Penske Racing. "We couldn't be happier." --Lars