Familiar Faces Hit The Bricks

Sam Hornish Jr. heads on to the race track Friday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IMS photo)
Sam Hornish Jr. heads on to the race track Friday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IMS photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — It was 12 hours of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that saw the return of some familiar names, some legendary heroes and a few that tried to compete in a different car.

Four-time Brickyard 400 winners Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were back in the Sprint Cup Series during a short practice session to prepares for Saturday’s Pole Day while such drivers as Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was driving one of team owner Chip Ganassi’s Grand-Am cars. Former Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello had driven to victory at Indianapolis in the United States Grand Prix was in the lead late in the Brickyard Grand Prix before having to pit for fuel with just five laps left.

It started with the NASCAR Nationwide Series on the track followed by Sprint Cup practice before the oval was converted into the road course configuration in just under two hours and the day ended with two sports car races.

Now it’s time to look ahead to Saturday and a familiar face who was a three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner is ready to drive to victory lane in a stock car on Saturday.

A win in Saturday’s Indiana 250 could provide Sam Hornish Jr. the solid foundation he needs to win the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship at Penske Racing. And while that remains the goal of the three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, he realizes that if he has to choose between victory or the points he may go with what he feels in his heart rather than what he should do in his head.

“It would be awesome to win the Indiana 250 but at the end of the day we have to maintain what is important,” Hornish said after Friday’s practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I love racing here and want to win this race more than anything and at the end of the day Saturday if I am in position with the opportunity I will have to remind myself that we are here to race for points but I don’t know if I will listen.”

Hornish is the Nationwide Series leader entering the second-ever series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but his lead is just seven points over Regan Smith and eight over Austin Dillon. Elliott Sadler is 20 points behind Hornish and Justin Allgaier is fifth, 22 out of the lead.

As a former IndyCar driver Hornish knows how to win championships – he won back to back IndyCar titles in 2001 and 2002 and gave team owner Roger Penske his only IZOD IndyCar Series championship in 2006.

When he made the jump to NASCAR in 2008 he went straight to Cup and struggled. He was out of the series after 2010, ran a limited Nationwide Series schedule in 2011 and contended for the championship last year before Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the title.

Hornish has been solid all season with one win, seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 18 starts and has the confidence level that he can score a NASCAR championship this season.

“We have shown how strong we have been and there have been a lot of races this year where we were the only competition for the 22 (Joey Logano) and 54 (Kyle Busch), so I think that shows that we are very deserving of winning the championship,” Hornish said. “We have run extremely well with a couple issues that have put us in the back or a piece of debris blow our oil pump up, we would be somewhere around 50-60 points ahead. Those are things everybody fights from time to time.”