The door always has been open for Sam Hornish Jr. to return to the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske principals say. Will the 100th anniversary of the race and his potential idleness be enough of an inducement?
The three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indy 500 winner, who moved to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Penske Racing following the 2007 IZOD IndyCar Series season, doesn’t have a funded program for 2011. His primary sponsor, Mobil 1, moved to another team after Penske Racing signed a multi-dimensional deal with Shell/Pennzoil, and the team will have Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski in full-time, funded cars.
Team owner Roger Penske intimated Dec. 2 at the unveiling of the Shell/Pennzoil cars to be driven by Helio Castroneves in the Indy 500 on May 29 and Busch that Hornish’s future beyond the Daytona 500 in February is up in the air.
“…he’ll run in the January test to get ready for the 500, and, hopefully, by that time we can extend it,” Penske told The Sporting News. “The other good news is that he could be available to run the (Indy) 500.”
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said during a teleconference Dec. 3 that it will be Hornish’s decision whether to compete on the 2.5-mile oval in an IndyCar again. He won the 2006 race by 0.635 of a second (second-closest in race history) over Marco Andretti, passing the series rookie in the final 400 yards. Hornish, 31, of Ohio, made his Indy 500 debut in 200 in a Hornish Brothers Trucking-sponsored car (starting 14th and finishing 24th).
“We always told him if he wants to run Indy again, he needs to raise his hand and we'll figure it out,” Cindric said. “I don't think that's any different than years past. I think the speculation is coming from the fact that he's one of those in the stock car land, and he we haven't been able to put a program together for him next year. I know that's what he wants to continue to accomplish.
“That said, I know that the Indy 500 is near and dear to his heart. If he wants to run the Indy 500, we'll figure out a way to run the Indy 500 with Sam Hornish. He's that good. But we're certainly not ever going to force him into doing that or do something that would change his career from the path that he wants it to take.”