"I didn't make the move to NASCAR on a whim or without being fully committed to becoming a successful stock car driver," said Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Dodge. "When I made the decision to come to NASCAR, I considered myself a stock car driver and have ever since".
"There was never any question in my mind if I would return to open wheel racing," continued Hornish. "I am right where I want to be."
In 2007, Hornish made the most difficult decision to leave his very successful IndyCar Racing Series career. Hornish had incredible success in that series, winning three championships and 19 races.
But Hornish chose to give that all up and move on to the challenge of NASCAR stock car racing.
"Roger Penske let me run a few Nationwide races while I was still competing in the IndyCar Series and in 2007, we made a couple of Cup starts as well," said Hornish.
"He (Penske) wanted me to see if it was something I liked and we both knew that I had to do it full-time if I wanted to succeed."
As a result, Hornish said farewell to IndyCar racing and hello to full-time NASCAR Cup racing.
"I knew how hard it was going to be," continued Hornish. "I wanted to challenge myself."
Hornish continued, "I told myself this could be the biggest mistake that I ever made. But I had a taste of this, and wanted more."
Since coming over to stock car racing, Hornish has indeed been challenged. But he and his team have been making steady progress, bringing home an eighth-place finish at this past weekend's race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
This great top-ten finish, in spite of the rain-shortened race, was the fourth top-ten finish for Hornish and his Penske team. As a result of the finish, Hornish gained one position in the points and now is in the 25th position in the points standings.
"Our team has had some top ten finishes so far this season and it really builds a lot of momentum," said Hornish. "There were some races early on where we didn't get the finish we deserved due to overheating, or a blown tire, or a pit stop mistake."
Hornish continued, "But there has been consistent improvement for the Mobil 1 Team throughout the season and it seems as if all the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place."
"We know that we have to start running consistently in the top ten, and then the top five," said Hornish of his goals for the rest of the 2009 season. "Everything is a progression, and we are building a solid foundation that will eventually lead us to Victory Lane."
After leaving New Hampshire, Hornish and team headed to Daytona for this weekend's July 4th fireworks on the superspeedway. Hornish was fast in practice, but unfortunately tangled with Greg Biffle in Happy Hour, wrecking his primary car.
Both Hornish and Biffle will now have to go to back up cars for the Saturday night race. As is typical at Daytona, however, starting position is not all that critical, given the chess game of using the draft to move to the head of the pack.
With the practice crash in his rear view mirror, Hornish is now focused on a good run at Daytona. He has experienced success in the IndyCar Series and is now anxious and poised to experience it in the highest level of NASCAR stock car racing.
"The ultimate goal is to win races, of course," said Hornish.
Hornish is hoping that he can indeed achieve that goal as soon as possible in the 2009 season. If so, he will take with him his biggest supporters, wife Crystal and daughter Addison (pictured above).
If Hornish ends up with the checkered flag at Daytona, he will also have another reason to celebrate. Hornish celebrated his 30th birthday on July 2.
Whether he wins or has another great finish, Hornish is sure of one thing.
"I feel like I'm learning all the time," said Hornish. "The team is growing and getting stronger. Penske Racing as a whole is also getting stronger, and I think you are seeing the results on the track."
Photo Credit: Mary Jo Buchanan, New Hampshire Motor Speedway