Sam Hornish Jr . gets heavy damage after making contact with Trevor Bayne at Fontana.
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
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
Richard Petty Motorsports' newest driver, Sam Hornish Jr ., talks about his return to the Sprint Cup Series.
Driver's first full-time Cup ride since 2010 figures to get better
Filling in for Denny Hamlin, Sam Hornish Jr . managed to finish 17th at Fontana
No. 9 opening piques interest of veteran driver RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today SPARTA, Ky. -- After losing his full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series ride at the close of last season, Sam Hornish Jr . has gotten used to having time for a more normal family life. And now that he's spent most weekends at home with his wife, Crystal, two daughters, Addison and Eliza, and son Sam , it will take a lot for a team to convince him to get back on the road for a full season. "There's not a ton of availability to be out there to be full time, and I also have three kids, so there's a part of me that really wants to go full-time racing -- and to do it in the (Sprint) Cup Series -- and that's a big part of me," Hornish said. "But then I realize, the other thing is, as far as a family aspect of it that I'll miss, it's gotta be the right thing." The right thing, he said, is a team that will put him in a place to win and surround him with good people. Just such a ride has piqued his interest: the one Marcos Ambrose 's well-timed departure will leave open next season. Ambrose announced earlier this week that he'll leave Richard Petty Motorsports to return to the Australian V8 Supercars as a driver for Roger Penske. Team officials for RPM have said they're still evaluating options for a replacement in his No. 9 Ford. However, Ambrose's primary sponsor, DeWalt, revealed this week it will move to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015, leaving future sponsorship in question for the No. 9. With Aric Almirola , driver of the No. 43 for RPM, making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time this season, the team is certainly a strong option for a driver as selective as Hornish . His interest in the ride, he said, shouldn't be of surprise to anyone. "I feel like any driver that wants to be full time in the Cup Series or would like a good place to go work at has talked to Richard Petty Motorsports about that opportunity," he said. "When you look at it, they've still said that they're working on getting all their funding in place. I read the same things that you do. As soon as we found out there was an opportunity, that Marcos might be leaving, you know, 'Hey, what are you guys thinking about for next year?' " Almirola's performance, in particular, has given Hornish confidence the organization is on the rise and could be a good destination. With nine races remaining, the No. 43 driver has already tied his record number of top-10 finishes in a season with six. He led laps in last week's Chase opener at Chicagoland before suffering a heartbreaking engine failure that ended their day. "They've shown a lot of progress with the 43 team over the past year. With all of Richard's success, you would feel like it's very important for him to move the team forward, to get back to where he expects that it should be at," Hornish said. "I feel like there's -- on the outside looking in -- a lot of good things going on over there." As a part-time driver for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, Hornish has one win and four top-fives in seven starts. He's fattened his schedule with testing for the Sprint Cup Series, TV responsibilities, appearances and time at the Joe Gibbs Racing garage. He's also found time to simply be a dad, dropping his kids off at school and taking them on family outings. Since driving nearly a complete schedule since 2008, Hornish hadn't gotten a taste of that life. When it was announced he would no longer have a full-time Nationwide Series ride last year, he took it in stride. Should he learn he's without one again, he'll shake it off again. "A lot of people might've taken things harder or whatever," he said of getting the news last year. "I've just enjoyed the fact of getting a little bit of a new outlook on life and what's going on around me." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Tagliani spins out in attempt at fastest lap RELATED : Starting lineup Sam Hornish Jr . earned the Coors Light Pole Award ahead of the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 24.787 seconds. Hornish was fastest in the opening practice session for the weekend, and his speed hasn't waned since. Alex Tagliani will also start on the front row, with a speed just .305 seconds off Hornish's pace. As the clock wound down, Tagliani looked to earn the pole, but instead spun out into the dirt, requring a tow off the track. Brian Scott was fastest in the first round, but couldn't hold his place atop the leaderboard in the second. He will start third with a lap of 1 minute, 25.092 seconds. As the first round came to a close, Elliott Sadler bumped out Justin Mark s as the clock went to 0, but Marks was still on the track and took the position away from Sadler as he finished his lap. Trevor Bayne also did not advance past the first round. The Nationwide Children's Hopsital 200 is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET and will be aired on ESPN. READ MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Hornish earns his first win at Iowa Speedway
NASCAR Nationwide Series title contender Sam Hornish Jr . scrapes the wall late in practice and has to go the garage for repairs.