Sam Hornish's Nationwide success has groomed him for a second crack at Sprint Cup racing.
From almost the moment that driver A.J. Allmendinger was suspended back in July for failing a drug test, the million-dollar question has been who would replace him behind the wheel of Penske Racing's No. 22 Dodge.
Matt Kenseth kicked off the silly season back in June by announcing he would be leaving Roush Fenway Racing (via ESPN.com). Almost immediately, the word on the street became that he was headed to Joe Gibbs Racing, as reported here by ESPN.com's David Newton.
The odd man out in that equation was Joey Logano, who will cede his seat in JGR's Home Depot Toyota to Kenseth.
Which brings us to Monday's report from Newton that Penske has tabbed Logano to take over as Allmendinger's full-time replacement in the Shell Pennzoil Dodge (which will become a Ford in 2013) starting at Daytona next February.
Logano deserves a fresh start in the Cup Series. The kid oozes talent, but has spent his entire four-year career struggling to break out of the shadow of the former driver of that car, three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart.
But in giving Logano the keys to the No. 22, Penske is dealing an unfair hand to the current driver of that car, the man who has filled in since the day (literally) of Allmendinger's suspension, Sam Hornish Jr.
No one can argue that Hornish was horrendous during his first stint at the Cup level following his switch from IndyCar. Between 2008 and 2010, Hornish never finished higher than 28th in points and logged just eight top-10 finishes in 104 starts.
Did Sam Hornish deserve to be named driver of the No. 22.
Those results make Hornish's performance since taking over for Allmendinger that much more incredible. Factor in the fact that he is building a relationship with crew chief Todd Gordon on the fly from week to week and working with a team that had prepared to have a different driver in its car this season, and the showing that Hornish has put forth in 2012 has been spectacular.
While Hornish has secured just one top-10 finish in his eight races in the No. 22—a fantastic fifth-place showing at Watkins Glen—bad luck has turned some strong performances into less-than-impressive results, such as a blown tire at Daytona, getting dumped by David Ragan at Bristol and being swept up in an accident with Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman at Atlanta this past Sunday (after running in the top-five earlier in the night).
No one has ever denied Hornish's talent behind the wheel. Though he never grasped the nuances of Sprint Cup cars during his first stint, running full-time in the Nationwide Series seems to have done wonders for his understanding of how to be successful in NASCAR, and he has shown that over the past two months.
Point blank, Hornish earned that ride. The progress he has shown leaves little doubt that he is ready to blossom into the NASCAR competitor that Roger Penske envisioned him to be when he brought him over from IndyCar.
One option is for Penske to bring Hornish to the Sprint Cup Series with a third team (via Chad Liestikow at USA Today). If that comes to be, then Penske will have done right by Hornish afterall.
But if Penske decides to leave Hornish in the Nationwide Series and deny him a Sprint Cup opportunity, it will be a grave injustice to a guy who has gone beyond the call of duty to rescue the No. 22 team when it was thrown into turmoil following Allmendinger's sudden and stunning suspension/dismissal.
Hornish earned the right to be the No. 22 car's new full-time driver. Now that that right has been bestowed upon Logano instead, whether or not Penske rewards Hornish in kind remains to be seen.
So what do you think? Did Sam Hornish earn the job as driver of the No. 22 car? Or is Joey Logano a better choice? Answer the poll above and tell us why you feel the way you do in the comments below!