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Sam Hornish Jr . celebrates with his family in Victory Lane in Iowa
An emotional Sam Hornish Jr . celebrates in Victory Lane with his family and crew on Father's Day at Iowa Speedway.
Hornish Jr . returns, no signs of rust
RELATED: Complete lineup for Sunday's race NEWTON, Iowa -- If there were any cobwebs for Sam Hornish Jr . in his return to a NASCAR track, they were hard to see after he was among the top-three in both NASCAR XFINITY Series practices and qualifying at Iowa Speedway . Hornish is back in action for this Sunday's American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The veteran driver is filling in behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after scheduled driver Matt Tifft was advised by his doctor to rest a disc condition in his back. The 36-year-old's last NASCAR start came in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway . In that race, Hornish piloted the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports . Since Homestead, Hornish has been doing "a lot of normal dad stuff" as he describes it, dance recitals and more with his wife and three children. He also went to Alaska with his dad and took his kids to the Indianapolis 500 for the 100th running of the event -- a race he won in 2006. "A lot of the rust happened on Thursday night. I didn't sleep very well. I was all nervous about getting back in the car," Hornish told NASCAR.com on Saturday at Iowa. "It's been since Homestead and six, seven months is not a lot of time for the sake of time itself but it's still a fair amount when things evolve in this sport." For Sunday's race, Hornish will line up third behind his JGR teammates for the weekend -- Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez . The speed Hornish has shown this weekend at Iowa is nothing new. In his last five starts at the 0.875-mile track, the Ohio native has five top-four finishes – including a win in 2014 with JGR in the team's No. 54 Toyota (which has since been renumbered to the machine Hornish will pilot Sunday, the No. 18.) "The car is good," Hornish said. "The guys here at Joe Gibbs Racing have these XFINITY cars figured out. ... With the fact that I have had the opportunity to drive here before, drive for them, you get in the car and everything is pretty much set how I would have it a couple years ago. "I really love Iowa. If it was going to come for a weekend to have to jump in the car and with a certain team to have to do it with, it was probably two of the best options as far as that goes." JGR has been the team to beat all year atop the sport's two top series, but the dominance is even more apparent in the XFINITY Series. Four drivers ( Kyle Busch -four wins, Jones-two wins, Denny Hamlin -one win and Suarez-one win) have combined to produced eight wins in the season's first 13 races. The only races on Hornish's docket prior to this last-minute add were recently announced as well. He will drive the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in two standalone XFINITY races: Iowa in July and Kentucky in September. The discussions with RCR started back in February, according to Hornish . "I've been vocal over the past three years of wanting to put myself in equipment that I felt was capable to run well. I love my family and I like spending time with them. I'm in a very fortunate position that I can be picky about what I am going to drive." Beyond that though, not much appears to be in the offing for the three-time race winner in the XFINITY Series, and Hornish seems content with that. "I've found in the past it's better to be standing there holding your helmet than to be in something that you can't get the effectiveness out of," Hornish said. "I love racing but it's not fair to my wife and kids how I act when I am in a situation that I'm frustrated. And I know that being frustrated is being put in a position where I feel like you can't win. "They know that their husband, their dad if he is home with them and it didn't work out, he's going to be a lot happier than if he's off chasing a dream that he knows he can't capture."
Hornish wins with family after road trip, teaching stint
RELATED: What rust? Hornish's Iowa win " Hornish returns to racing Sam Hornish Jr . didn't even have his official NASCAR license or "hard card" when he received a call from Joe Gibbs Racing last week asking if he'd like to drive the team's No. 18 Toyota in the Iowa Speedway XFINITY Series event on Father's Day Sunday. After the deal was formalized last Wednesday afternoon for the 36-year-old to make his first NASCAR start of the year -- five months into the 2016 season -- the former XFINITY Series championship runner-up hastily arranged to take the NASCAR mandated drug test. Fortunately, he had turned in all his other medical paperwork before the season started "just in case" he got the phone call as he did last week. Lastly came the job of quickly packing all his racing gear. Some of it was at the family home in Ohio where the Hornish family was last week, and other parts of it were in the family's North Carolina house. "I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket, I knew I couldn't carry-on everything, but I did put some things in there in case my checked bag got lost," Hornish shared with NASCAR.com this week, his voice still exhilarated for what turned out to be a thrilling victory at Iowa -- with no preparation other than the event's scheduled time on the track. "It was huge especially after the year we had last year, just to get the opportunity was fun," Hornish said. "I knew with the strength of the 18 car there was opportunity. I was a little bit nervous just because you get into that kind of race car and having been out of the car as long as I was, you just kind of wonder if everything is going to work out the way you think it should. "I don't know how it could have been much better." The best part for the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner was that it was the first time his young family was all in attendance to see him hoist a trophy. "Ever since first Father's Day in 2008 and Addison was just a baby, I remember waking up at Michigan -- my first year in the Cup Series --and she was sitting there on the bed," Hornish recalled. "I remember thinking how cool it would be to take her to Victory Lane. The other races I won my family (wife Crystal and including his other two children Eliza and Sam Hornish III) they didn't happen to be there. Even my dad, who was there, was driving my bus for me so he'd leave the track when the race started. "It feels good you won, but you want to share it with somebody. I can't remember how many times in the XFINITY Series I finished second and the kids were there. I remember thinking, am I ever going to be able to make this happen?" Even thinking about it half a week later makes Hornish emotional. Many have wondered when the talented driver will give NASCAR another shot after he nearly won the XFINITY Series championship but struggled to post good results in four full Cup Series seasons with the Team Penske and Richard Petty Motorsports operations and several half-season efforts in between. Having had NASCAR success -- challenging for the 2013 XFINITY crown -- and won three IndyCar championships and an esteemed Indy 500 ring, Hornish said this week that he is most proud of having his children present with him in Victory Lane. The time out of the car Hornish has spent in a most unusual -- yet exceedingly gratifying way. He is a devoted member of a prayer group in Charlotte, North Carolina. And in May, he and his father made a long-awaited 11,000-mile road trip to Alaska. It was something the two had talked about doing for half a decade but always put on hold because of racing. Now he had the time. "A lot of other people were saying, 'Too bad you're not getting any wheel time,' and I told them, 'Man I'm getting some wheel time,' " Hornish shared with a laugh. "I did close to 11,000 miles of driving during the month of May." Perhaps the most surprising and interesting thing Hornish has done out of the race car is find a place in the classroom -- as a substitute teacher. He's taught physical education to first-graders and a music class -- yes music -- to students from kindergarten to eighth grade. "Most of the kids just know me as Addison's dad," Hornish said. And right now, that feels pretty good. Even before he drove to Victory Lane last weekend, Hornish had secured two XFINITY starts for Richard Childress Racing and he will be in the No. 2 Chevrolet at the next Iowa race and the series' second Kentucky stop. "That's what I know right now and in a lot of ways, I hope there will be more," Hornish said. "At this point in time, one of the hardest things is explaining to people, I could be out there racing right now, if I didn't want to run well. I'm fortunate that I can be choosy." And he added -- his voice unmistakably filled with emotion, "After everything that happened last week, it's like you got the ice cream sundae with whipped cream and the cherry on top. "I keep thinking how blessed I am all those things got to happen. Without getting too sentimental, I kept thinking to myself for the past six to seven months, if I could just win a race and have them there, that's all I need. "Then I can be happy about everything I've done, whatever the ups and downs were."
What rust? Hornish stomps field en route to Iowa win
RELATED: Complete race results NEWTON, Iowa -- Sam Hornish Jr ., who hadn’t been in a car in 210 days, gave himself the perfect Father’s Day present on Sunday -- a dominant victory in the sixth annual NASCAR XFINITY Series American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway . Hornish , who last competed in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway , received a call Monday from Joe Gibbs Racing to substitute for injured driver Matt Tifft . He made the most of the opportunity, picking up his fourth career XFINITY Series win and second at Iowa. Overall, it was JGR’s ninth triumph in 14 races this season. “I don’t know, it doesn’t get much better than that,” said an emotional Hornish in Victory Lane. “Just gotta thank Toyota, everyone from Joe Gibbs Racing for getting me out here and giving me this opportunity. Got my wife and kids here, it’s the first time the kids got to be here for one of dad’s wins. “I can’t tell you what this means to me. I worked so hard to try to get a win when I had my kids here. Gotta thank God. He makes things happen. I was so nervous on Friday getting into the car thinking I’m going to make a mistake, and man, to go out there and win the way that we did. Just can’t say anything more about it." Ty Dillon attempted to make a charge on Hornish on a Lap 224 restart, but settled for second, finishing ahead of Brad Keselowski . "I don't know, I guess we just needed to be a little bit better,” Dillon said. “The No. 18 ( Hornish ) was so dominant on the bottom (groove). I thought, obviously, we were the best car on the top (groove). "Just needed a little bit more speed. I'm proud of my guys. We were kind of a mid-pack car and did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position -- something we talked about all week -- and we did a great job." Hornish took the lead from last week’s XFINITY Series winner Daniel Suarez on Lap 24, setting the tone that the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were going to be hard to beat. The two drivers swapped the lead on pit road on two occasions before several competitors elected to use varying pit strategies following the event’s third caution on Lap 126. Hornish restarted sixth, but only took 13 laps to get back to the race lead, passing Suarez on Lap 139 and never relinquishing. Championship contender Erik Jones , who scored his fifth pole of 2016, had to drop to the rear before the race for an unapproved body modification. Jones, however, was never a factor as he battled fuel pressure issues, finishing 27th. The NASCAR XFINITY Series takes a week off before returning to Daytona International Speedway on July 1 for the running of the Subway Firecracker 250 .
Hornish wins in Iowa in first NASCAR race of 2016
Sam Hornish Jr . earns the victory at Iowa Speedway in his first NASCAR race this season.
RECAP: Hornish makes the most of substitute role on Father's Day
Sam Hornish Jr . dominated at Iowa Speedway in his first NASCAR race since the 2015 season to earn the victory on a special Father's Day.
Hornish returns to NASCAR, will start third in Iowa
Sam Hornish Jr . talks about making a return to NASCAR and qualifying third for the NASCAR XFINITY Series race in Iowa.
Darlington Paint Scheme: Sam Hornish Jr
Take a look at Sam Hornish Jr's retro scheme that he will run at Darlington Raceway this weekend, inspired by Mark Martin.
Hornish Jr . looks to build at growing RPM
Veteran ready for return to Sprint Cup Series, working with Almirola Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With its first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup appearance behind it, a new, decorated driver in tow and the dust settling on a massive race shop relocation, it's obvious that Richard Petty Motorsports is in the midst of a progressive transformation. The team, which saw Aric Almirola pick up his first career premier series victory last July at Daytona International Speedway to vault the No. 43 Ford into the sport's playoffs, recently moved its headquarters to an 80,000 square foot building in Mooresville, North Carolina, completely redesigning how it proceeds with day-to-day operations to really hammer the focus on a "one-team approach" -- with a two-car race shop and 35 new employees. Gone are the separate offices and garages of old. Crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers now all interact openly with each other at their desks, while shop employees work side-by-side, knowing a set of shared goals is in place for the 2015 season. It's a new way of doing things that runs all the way up to the drivers themselves, Almirola and the incoming former Indianapolis 500 winner, Sam Hornish Jr . "I think Sam brings a lot of versatility," said team owner and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. "Marcos (Ambrose) was super on road courses and stuff, but he never got the hang of being ready. He could have good races and bad races and good times in the races, but I think Sam will be much more consistent with it. "In our testing, ( Hornish and Almirola) both felt the same thing in the car. Whether they'd change the air pressure or they'd change the springs and both of them feel the same thing. With Marcos, he was one way and Aric was the other way and so it was hard to compare them. Now we've got two cars that we can sit down and say, 'OK, you try this and I'll try that and if it works, we'll put it on the other car.' That should be an advantage for all of us." Hornish Jr ., the 2013 XFINITY Series runner-up, has three full-time Sprint Cup Series seasons and 131 starts under his belt and will replace Ambrose in the No. 9 car. He comes to RPM after racing part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2014 in an effort to position himself for a competitive Sprint Cup ride in 2015 -- which appears to be exactly what he's done. It was announced Wednesday during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom that, despite having sold sponsorship for just 10 of the schedule's 36 races thus far, Hornish will be running a full slate, starting with the season opening Daytona 500 . With less than a month to go before the Great American Race, the lack of sponsorship is daunting but offers a view into what the King and Co. think of Hornish's talent behind the wheel. Performance on the track comes first, sponsorship later. For an organization and owner that have long been at the helm of motorsports innovation, the investments that RPM is making to grow and build for the future is clear. Its current focus is on testing new ideas and implementing them into the cars, something that they haven't necessarily beem able to do in recent years. With the tools and space that the new shop allows it to explore and take advantage of, combined with two drivers that are very much on the same page to start the season -- something that Petty alluded to not being the case with Almirola and Ambrose -- it should give RPM the flexibility to continue its growth from last season to expand its goals and increase performance in the coming years. "Aric came to all three of the tests and we got the opportunity to jump back and forth out of the car to see what each of us liked as far as driving goes and I feel like that's one of the main benefits right now," said Hornish , who led the eighth-most XFINITY Series laps in 2014 despite running just eight of the schedule's 33 races. "It seems like we both want similar things out of the race car. ... When we get to the race track, hopefully we'll be able to cover twice as much ground as far as finding what's going to be a direction to head and make our cars better each weekend." Hornish's last full-time Cup season was in 2010 -- in a Dodge, no less -- so there's certainly going to be some adjusting to do in the early going, especially considering he hasn't competed full-time at all since 2013. He knows there's going to be bumps in the road, but he's willing to put in the work necessary to make his mark on this avenue of motorsports before the 35-year-old starts to think about wrapping up his racing career. "Going back to the Cup Series full-time, it's a lot different than when I did it last time. I feel like we've got a lot of things to look forward to," Hornish said. "I want to be a part of building something. ... I feel like the best thing that I can do in the situation that I'm in right now is to try to be a good leader and keep people excited about what's going on and to move the program forward because I know that I'm not going to be racing forever. If I can get to the point where I leave it better than when I found it, I feel like that’s my main goal." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Hornish Jr ., RPM still have questions to answer
Bruce: Driver readies for second chance with team on upswing Sam Hornish Jr . will return to full-time competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015 as driver of the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports . Can Hornish , a former open-wheel champion with 131 starts in the series, contend for wins? Can he follow in teammate Aric Almirola 's footsteps and earn a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup? Does RPM have the tools and personnel to provide Hornish with the opportunity to accomplish either of those goals? Hornish , 35, obviously believes that's the case. Although he hasn't competed in a full-time capacity in the Sprint Cup Series since 2010, when he finished 29th in points with Team Penske, Hornish hasn't exactly been sitting at home on the couch. He finished out the year for Penske in 2012, running 20 races in the No. 22 entry after AJ Allmendinger was suspended. That same year, he finished fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. The following season, he finished second in the Nationwide Series, falling just three points short of the title won by Austin Dillon . He's made nine NASCAR starts this season, eight for Joe Gibbs Racing in Nationwide, winning at Iowa in the team's No. 54 Toyota. His lone Sprint Cup start came at Auto Club Speedway , a last-minute call putting him in the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin after Hamlin was sidelined for medical reasons. Age isn't an issue -- six of this year's 13 race winners are 35 or older, and they have combined for 15 wins in 30 races. Experience shouldn't be a problem, although rule changes, the lack of testing opportunities and getting settled in with a new team will affect how quickly the team is able to get up to speed. Why return to the series in a full-time capacity? Hornish said he's yet to complete what he originally hoped to accomplish when he made the transition from IndyCar, where he won championships in 2001, 2002 and 2006. "A lot of people want to ask me 'why don't you go back to IndyCar?' " Hornish said Wednesday. "I never came over here because I wanted to have a little bit more fame or I felt like I was going to make any more money doing it. I came over here because I was intrigued by the competition side of it. "I felt like I had accomplished what I wanted to in the IndyCar Series. Now I put myself back in position where I could continue to build on what I originally came over here for." And RPM, he said, can help him accomplish that. It won't be easy. While the organization clearly has made gains in the past few seasons, its drivers have won only sporadically. Almirola's victory this season, in July at Daytona, earned the driver a spot in this year's Chase, but both he and Marcos Ambrose struggled to find the consistency necessary to be a factor on a weekly basis. It's been a year of slow improvement for the group. Although Almirola failed to advance out of the first round of the Chase, he earned his first career win, and his two top-five and seven top-10 finishes are career bests. Ambrose, who will return to Australia after the 2014 season, failed to earn the victory that could have put his No. 9 team in the Chase. His three top-five and five top-10 finishes through 30 races this year are on par with previous years' results. While he says the organization is "not where we want to be yet," Sammy Johns, director of competition for RPM, said the gains the group has made this year helped attract a driver with the potential and talent of Hornish . RPM could have gone the other way with its choice, opting for a young driver with less experience. But by choosing Hornish , the team clearly expects to continue to move forward without taking a step back. Both driver and team have something to prove. "It's kind of like a small ship," Hornish said of the organization. "It's a lot easier to turn, and they've got a lot of things heading in a really good direction." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation