For the first time in a long while, Sam Hornish Jr. is not certain just where his racing career is headed. After three seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, an erosion of sponsorship money has likely cost the Defiance native his full-time ride at the top level of NASCAR.
Hornish said recently that while staying in Cup would be his preference, he understood how the economic downturn had carved into the financial backing for the sport.
"I'm really fortunate to not to have to do anything I don't want to do, or that doesn't seem like it's going to be a right fit for me," Hornish said.
"We've kind of had some ups and downs, but we'll have something to do."
A portion of the 2011 picture then got a little clearer for Hornish over the weekend when racing icon and team owner Roger Penske told FoxSports that Hornish will run at least 10 races in the second-tier Nationwide Series.
A spokesman for Penske Racing said yesterday that the team will make a formal announcement concerning Hornish's racing schedule for 2011 and his sponsorship on Jan. 24
Hornish, a three-time series champion in IndyCar and the winner of the 2006 Indianapolis 500, made the move to NASCAR full-time in 2008.
He had competed in several Nationwide and Sprint Cup events the previous year as he prepared for the transition, and he also took part in the ARCA Racing Series event at Michigan International Speedway in 2007, winning the pole and finishing second.
Hornish has driven the No. 77 Dodge for Penske for the last three seasons, but the team confirmed recently that Stephen Wallace, the son of racing legend Rusty Wallace, will drive that car in next month's Daytona 500 in his Cup debut. Wallace is guaranteed a place in the field due to the points Hornish accumulated with the No. 77 last season.
Hornish finished 29th in the Sprint Cup standings for the 2010 season after competing in all 36 races, and had one top 10 finish and $3,447,550 in winnings. He was 35th in Cup points in 2008, 28th in 2009, and in 108 Sprint Cup races over the past four years, Hornish has two top-five finishes and eight top-10s, with more than $12 million in earnings.
In a recent interview, Hornish said he was keeping all of his options open, including the possibility that he might retire from the sport.
"2011 for me is really going to be a year of trying to find a direction for the future," he said, "whether that's moving on from racing, whether that's continuing to race, or even what kind of racing we're going to be doing."
Several of his contemporaries from the open-wheel racing side have made brief and unsuccessful forays into stock car racing, only to quickly return to IndyCar. Hornish said he is hesitant to follow that path.
"There's been a lot of speculation that I'd go back to IndyCar, but at this point, I'm trying not to do that," Hornish said. "I feel like I did what I wanted to do in IndyCar. It wouldn't be fair to anybody, including myself [to jump back to IndyCar]."
Hornish left open the possibility that he could race in this year's Indy 500, and was pragmatic about likely facing limited options on the stock car side.
"I know that a lot of times in life, you don't always get to do the things that you necessarily want to do," he said. "I don't want to go run Indy just because I don't have anything else to do. If I'm sitting at home ... I don't know yet. I want to feel like I have that fire in the belly to go run Indy."
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.