Hornish Situation A Serious Head-Scratcher

Okay, so I fully understand that Roger Penske is a very smart guy.  He’s been extremely successful as both a business man and a race team owner.  I also know that I’m just a lowly tire changer, and if I really knew what I was talking about, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog post.  But this situation with Sam Hornish is really starting to make me wonder about his decision making.  Hornish has done absolutely nothing in his five years of NASCAR competition to suggest that he deserves another chance.  And yet, Penske confirmed to Lee Spencer this weekend that Hornish will run in at least 10 Nationwide Series races this season. 

Hornish’s skills in open wheel racing are irrefutable.  He’s one of the most successful and decorated drivers in the history of the sport (3 championships, 19 wins, Indy 500 winner).  Those skills however have not translated over to stock car racing.  Since coming into NASCAR in 2006, Hornish has two top five and nine top ten finishes in 128 starts across the Truck, NNS, and Cup Series.

And now, instead of giving Justin Allgaier or Parker Kligerman more opportunities to learn and gain experience, Penske will waste at least 10 starts on a hopeless Hornish.  For what?

Just so we are clear on what Penske let walk out the door when he released Allgaier, through two full years of NNS competition, Allgaier amassed one win, 11 top five, and 32 top ten finishes to go along with three poles and two top six points finishes.  And Kligerman’s NNS statistics are also better when compared to Hornish’s, and he was in sub-par equipment on many occasions.

It is almost unfathomable to me to think that with two young, very talented drivers in the pipeline, Penske continues to give Hornish opportunities.  I realize that Allgaier was let go due to the loss of Verizon as a sponsor, but there is no way that Hornish is more marketable to potential sponsors then Allgaier or Kligerman.  Any name recognition Hornish had from his IndyCar days has long since been killed by his mediocre Cup career.

In a time when it appears as though we could go a few years (starting with the 2010 season) without a solid Cup rookie class, it’s very frustrating to watch talented young drivers get pushed aside for someone who has already proven they don’t have what it takes.

Mr. Penske, you’ve done a lot of great things in your career, but you’ve officially botched this one.

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24 Responses to “Hornish Situation A Serious Head-Scratcher”

  1. rachel says:

    You pretty much covered it when you wrote this: “and if I really knew what I was talking about, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog post.” Since you don’t know all the facts, you aren’t qualified to criticize Mr Penske.

  2. Ella says:

    I agree with you. Justin Allgaier has had a strong season this past year and I would think any owner would be anxious to sign him. The move by Penske to let him go just never made sense to me. Justin also seemed very marketable, based on his ads throughout the season. Another bonus. Have to wonder about the “story within the story” here.

  3. T.C. says:

    Rachel: You must be a Sam Hornish fan…

  4. Jane says:

    R.P. himself has admitted that he handled Sam’s transition to stock car in all the wrong ways. He should have had a full Nationwide run prior to making the leap into NASCAR. He was also given a very young team and a first time crew chief that had no idea how to set up Sam’s race cars. R.P. recognizes that Sam’s struggles in NASCAR are, at least in large part, due to the way R.P. and the Penske organization handled his transition.

  5. Neon says:

    IMHO, as the IRL was going absolutely no where in the 2000’s, RP wanted to “reward” SH for winning RP (or Team P) an IRL Championship. RP did not want stand in the way of Sam’s progression, but also did not want to lose Sam’s talent from Team Penske. F1 was not an option so the BIG bucks (compared to the IRL at least) was the only place to go. Thought process…maybe we can capitalize like Gordon in ‘93 and Stewart in ’99 as they each grew an empire in NASCAR. Unfortunately for Sam, a 2006 jump just is not the same as the 90’s.

    Enter 2011 and the once primarily oval IRL (or whatever they call it now) has a heavy chunk of road courses and Sam will have lost his previous competitive edge if he made an open wheel return. I’d like to see him give it a go though.

    There is no way Sam could be satisfied, either competitively or financially, w/ a (10) race NW deal.

    To me the real travesty involving Allgaier or Kilgerman does not really involve Sam so much. Nah…it’s the bone head idea that Steven Wallace is some how capable and deserving of a CUP appearance in Daytona. Am I the only one scratching my head here in amazement? RP must be getting a lifetime supply of 5 hour energy in the deal…..or something!

  6. pb says:

    The Captain is loyal to Sam because with Sam he won an Indy 500 and an IICS Championship. That evidently trumps developing new talent.

    Penske doesn’t need to develop talent, he will hire it when needed.

  7. rachel says:

    Nope, not a Hornish fan by any stretch of the imagination. Not even a Penske or Dodge fan. I just think it’s unwise to judge a situation unless you have all the facts. Mr Penske is a class act and he is the only one who has all the facts. You certainly have the right to express your opinion, but to assume he “botched” this isn’t your call.

  8. Kaoscapt says:

    I’ll just chock this up to another stupid move made by car owners in the last few months, along with Michael Waltrip Racing’s release of Trevor Bayne and Jack Roush keeping David Ragan and letting go Jamie McMurray.

    WTF were any of them thinking??

  9. RAEckart says:

    I still count the “Rusty Wallace Experiment” as the Captain’s ultimate failure. He stayed too loyal for too long. Both of those men would have won championships if they weren’t together. A smart businessman would have engineered a mutual separation that saved face for both.

    The only thing I can think here is he knows big changes are coming to the IRL in 2012, and he needs to keep Hornish in the fold until then (a Kasey Kahne plan). Other than that, Penske has always favored seasoned, experienced drivers. He’s a safe businessman first, and it takes risk-taking wildcatters to win at any pro level. Until Roger changes his ways or instructs his management to change his ways, more of the same.

  10. Terence Fischer says:

    Mr. Penske is a great business man and sometimes his decisions are for the better of business and not for the better of racing. He’s been known to let good drivers go, i.e. Paul Tracy, because they did not match his business agenda. I don’t know about Allgaier or Kligerman, but since their numbers were better than Hornish’s you can bet they were let go because Sam was better from a business perspective.

  11. Ron says:

    LMAO….Poor Rachel. She needs a lesson in NASCAR 101. Talk about facts. Well look at the record of Hornish! I think his record establishes the facts.

  12. Dave says:

    Well “TC” your dismissing, out of hand, the comment by Rachel, shows that you must have some motives behind your “blog,” yourself. I’m sure that Rachel is correct, you do not know all of the facts. I don’t either (but then again I don’t profess to in this fashion). I’m sure that RP and Hornish still have some contractual deal. If that is the case and he gets let go, he still gets paid. Why not get something out of the deal?

    I am sorry but some blogs are “driver x” fanboy rants and not serious attempts at journalism. Hope that this is not the case.

  13. Bill B says:

    I must assume that there is no room for SH in Indy anymore because I can’t imagine him snubbing Indy to run 10 races in NW.

  14. T.C. says:

    Dave: No “fanboy” rants here. When you work in the sport, your “fandom” goes out the window. Feel free to look back over the last three years of blog posts if you don’t believe me. But this website is not a serious attempt at journalism either. We are a blog, not the Associated Press. And I wasn’t dismissing Rachel’s comment, but regardless of any background happenings we might not know about, Hornish just flat out hasn’t gotten it done in NASCAR. There is absolutely no disputing that. So based on performance, there is no way Hornish still deserves a ride.

  15. Woogeroo says:

    Either you win races and run for championships or you go home.

    T.C., you nailed it.

    Maybe Penske feels bad about the mismatched equipment or knows the specific technical glitches behind the curtain and feels he could have done better for Hornish and wants to give him every last possible chance.

    I dunno, but as many seasons as he has had and still no wins, it puts him right alongside Reed Sorenson with the multiple seasons in Cup, no wins.

    Penske is a successful old guy with lots of cash, so he can afford to gamble now and then.

    Maybe that is what he is doing now.


  16. Dave says:

    Glad that no fanboys exist at “The Nascar Insiders.” I have grown tired of blogs written with a slant to them … it seems that every Tom Dick and Harriet these days is writing a NASCAR blog and many are laugable. BUT there must be something that RP has in mind here. OR maybe just a big favor. I don’t know what that is. Only Sam and “The Professor” know.

  17. Brian says:

    Saw where Steven Wallace is going to be given the points for the #77 (Hornish) ride from last season to be guaranteed a starting spot for the Daytona 500. Talk about a wreck waiting to happen! Just wait until the big one and my bet is Wallace is right in the middle of it. This dude can’t make a good commercial, let alone drive a stock car!
    When is poppa Rusty going to wake up and realize that his son would do better selling tickets, than driving stock cars! What a joke!

  18. Jim says:

    Does Penske have a business interest in the soft wall industry?

  19. Craig says:

    Hornish just can’t hack it in NASCAR. It’s still best for Allgaier that he left since it appears Penske doesn’t have a a full year of funding for Hornish in Nationwide. He as a fully funded ride with Turner next year, and will be a favorite for the title. I’m guessing Penske feels loyalty to Hornish, and I think unless something big happens this year for him in Nationwide he will be back in open wheel cars.

  20. Tony says:

    Over the years RP has been given a lot of credit for his decision making. But then if you look behind the upfront words and story, one finds quite a different situation.
    RP cost Al Unser Snr not one, but three 500 mile races in the same year! He called him into the pits at an Indy 500 with a handful of laps to run and instead of a “splash and go” he filled the car and fitted new tires! The tires took 4 laps to get to temp and the full fuel is obvious.
    PR is not the great strategist that he has been made out to be,the team behind him is the real strength. I suppose that there is a difference between strategist and decision maker!
    In the same way that RP has always looked after Rick Mears, one must assume he will find a way to look after Hornish.

  21. Nolan says:

    T.C. – Roger Penske has already answered why he is keeping Hornish around:

    “Coming in, I made a commitment to him that we would run the Indy side, win a championship and win the 500 and when we did that, we would go NASCAR racing,” Penske said.


    Roger Penske made a commitment to Hornish that he would bring him to NASCAR if he won the championship and the Indy 500 in IndyCar. Hornish did that, so Penske is just trying to keep his word.

    Smart? Not at all. Loyal? Unfortunately, yes.

  22. Neon says:

    Bottom line is that drivers don’t always translate well across series, especially nowadays. The likes of Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt and Dan Gurney being able to flip-flop and yet be successful in whatever they raced are greatly diminished.

    Sam is a talented driver, Rog is a smart man, but thinking that Steven Wallace provides a better shot at Daytona than Sam is just….. well….dumb. It does prove one thing though, the #77 car is not about the best chance to win or place, its about guaranteed sponsor coin. Sad IMO!

    Now just watch, Steven will go out and win the 500 and I’ll just have to eat my hat!

  23. Sam is a great Indycar driver and obviously Roger feels some debt to him for his past Penske Indycar wins. I would have thought he would gracefully gone back to the other racing series by now but he remains trying to get some traction in NASCAR. Let Roger spend his money any way he wants. Sadly this does keep some new talent from getting seat time.

    Steven Wallace does not have the talent of his dad – at least it has not been in evidence so far. It looks like soon he will be put in the limelight of Daytona and if he fails he will be back to a lower racing series or out altogether.

  24. james says:

    What a moronic thing to say.He finally learned how to drive a real race car. Just because he is from a form of racing…yes real racing.Your taxicab racing is way too boring.

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