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Sitting in a hauler outside a short track where he was scheduled to test wasn’t the ideal way Sam Hornish, Jr., wanted to spend a day away from the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
In the course of a nine-month NASCAR schedule, days away from the grind are rare. Days reserved strictly for testing are even rarer, given the costs of track rental time and the logistics of bringing a car, a hauler, a crew, and equipment to a track. Hornish lamented that he had to spend Monday at Toledo Speedway hoping for the rain to clear out.
That changed on Tuesday.
The Defiance native spent the day testing his Alliance Truck Parts/WURTH Ford Mustang on the half-mile oval in preparation for short-track races on the Nationwide series.
“When you look at Toledo, you can’t say it’s exactly like a track we’re going to run,” said Hornish, whose team will set up Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indiana 250. “But another thing that we can do is test on a track, without using our testing days, that’s as close to some of the tracks we’re racing on. We have picked out the parts that are similar. Toledo, for me, it’s small and it has similarities to some of the other places we’re going to be at. It’s really just testing ideas on it.”
Hornish leads the Nationwide Series points standings with 632, seven points ahead of Regan Smith and eight ahead of Austin Dillon. Hornish finished second Sunday in the STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., despite taking a speeding penalty that moved him to the back of the field for going too fast on pit road during a caution.
Hornish will drive Saturday at Indianapolis, coincidentally where he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2006, and enters the Indiana 250 with five consecutive top 10 finishes.
“There are a lot of different things that are going on, for sure,” Hornish said. “We’re trying to do all the things we did at the beginning of the year and that’s trying to be consistent. Not so much win every race, but get top five and top 10 [finishes], that’s what we want to do. We just need to be smart."
After this weekend, the Nationwide series moves to Iowa Speedway, a 7/8-mile oval track in Newton, Iowa, then to road courses Aug. 10 at Watkins Glen (N.Y) International and Aug. 17 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington before the Food City 250 on Aug. 23 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, a half-mile asphalt oval with steep banking and a stadium-type atmosphere.
“We’re looking towards our short track program and just learning some little things that may help us out down the road,” Hornish said.
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A year ago, Hornish drove in the Sprint Cup Series in place of AJ Allmendinger, whom NASCAR suspended for violating its substance abuse policy and whom NASCAR later reinstated.
While there’s already been some driver movement in preparation for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series — Kevin Harvick will leave Richard Childress Racing for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, replacing Ryan Newman — Hornish said a chance at returning to NASCAR’s top tier isn’t necessarily something that’s on his mind.
“Teams are making moves, but they’re not quite all the things that need to be in place,” said Hornish, who has been driving for Penske Racing in IndyCar and NASCAR since 2004. “We’re not really looking at that. We’re focusing on the [Nationwide] championship, and all that stuff will take care of itself.”