For Sam Hornish Jr., former Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar Series Champion, there has been nothing but pressure since making the switch to NASCAR stock car racing.
Although Hornish acknowledges that he feels the pressure to perform from his team, owner, and sponsors, he also admits that the most intense pressure actually comes from within.
"I feel pressure to perform," Hornish said. "But probably more so from myself than anyone else, to be honest with you."
This race weekend, Hornish entered the pressure cooker short track called Bristol Motor Speedway, affectionately dubbed "Thunder Valley" for the extreme noise level from the cars in such close proximity.
"Bristol is like mini-track almost out there a lot of times," Hornish said. "There's nowhere to go when you've got 43 cars and people around you all day long. You can't hide."
Hornish could indeed not hide at Bristol. While he made steady progress during the race, logging laps in the top 25 for most of the initial part of the race, he began to pick up that pace using pit strategy and hard racing in the latter stages of the Food City 500.
Hornish was actually flirting with a Top 10 finish when a cylinder went down and he was relegated to a 32nd place finish.
And for Hornish, this finish was just another example of the trouble he has been experiencing in his third year as a NASCAR driver.
"It's been a tough start so far for us," Hornish said of the young 2010 race season, including the frustrating Bristol finish. Hornish's troubles seem to have begun from the drop of the green flag at Daytona Speed Weeks.
"We went to Daytona and we were fast there," Hornish said. "And then we ended up having an engine problem in our qualifying race while we were running third."
That problem put Hornish at the back for the start of the Daytona 500. Seven laps into the race, Hornish's teammate blew a tire, and he ended up getting collected.
"Obviously, that wasn't a very good start," Hornish said.
The next race up was at Auto Club Speedway, where Hornish fared a bit better.
"California we ran pretty well and while we didn't get the finish we should have, we got a top 20," Hornish said. "When you have a bad day and get a top 20 out of it, that's pretty good though as far as I'm concerned."
The third race of the season in Las Vegas was "just terrible" according to Hornish. "We just totally missed, but all three cars kind of did," Hornish said.
At Atlanta, Hornish ran well and had a good race going with hopes of a Top 10 finish. "And then the engine blew up," Hornish said.
Unfortunately, Hornish had yet another great run going at Bristol before fate and the engine let him down. The pattern of good runs but less than stellar finishes for the driver of the No. 77 Mobil Dodge Charger was repeated yet again.
"At least we're not where we're at going like we just weren't fast enough," Hornish said. "We just couldn't get the finish out of it."
"As soon as we can get the engine to stay together and all the pieces to stay together, we're going to have the opportunity to go out there and finish and really climb through the points," Hornish said. "We've got to keep our heads up and look at it from a positive point of view."
Hornish admits that it sometimes is challenging to stay in a positive frame of mind, especially given the success he has had in the IndyCar Series and the struggles he has had in coming to NASCAR.
Yet he says that he reminds himself that he wanted the challenge of learning and mastering stock car racing and realizes that it is not as easy as it looks.
"I thought coming into this year, getting a spot in the Chase was an attainable goal," Hornish said. "Obviously, we'd like to win a race but it's going to take time. We're still building."
Hornish acknowledges that the Penske organization has indeed been building, especially this season. He also admits that he has been leaning more and more on his teammates, especially Kurt Busch.
"I have a much better idea of what he likes and what I like," Hornish said of Busch. "So, it's allowed me to talk more openly with him and understand how he is trying to explain something."
While Hornish and his team have been working hard to put all the pieces together, the pressure also has seemed to come from the racing gods.
"We just need a little bit of racing luck," Hornish said. "I don't have any lucky charms or superstitions, but I do know there is a little bit of luck that goes into this."
"The better you are, the less the racing luck can affect you," Hornish said. "That's what we need to get going. The better we become every day, the less that you have an opportunity for the bad luck to bite you."
While Hornish may feel the pressure from within and without, as well as the racing luck pressure, there is one place where he goes to escape the pressure. And that is with his family, including wife Crystal, and two-year-old daughter Addison, at his home in Napoleon, Ohio.
"There's a lot of balancing going on," Hornish said of his work and his family. "I really enjoy my family time. And on a bad day, it makes it a lot better having them with me at the track."
Hornish indeed hopes that the bad days are behind him and the pressure will be soon lifted. He also has his sights set on achieving some of his season goals.
"I don't want to go out there and run bad," Hornish said. "I want to do well. I get myself in trouble for trying too hard."
"This is the year that I need to step up and perform," Hornish said. "But that pressure is mostly coming from me."
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