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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Sam Hornish Jr.

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For a quarter century Sam Hornish Jr. tried off and on to win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The circuit is located roughly 130 miles southeast of where he grew up in Defiance, Ohio.

Hornish started racing at the road course in his early teens. But it wasn’t until August 12, at the age of 38, that he finally conquered it in an Xfinity Series race.

In his fourth series start there, driving the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Hornish led 61 laps from his third pole at the track to earn the win.

“The fact that I was able to do that this year with my wife and kids there, my in-laws and a bunch of other people that have supported me for a long time by coming out to races, that hadn’t got the opportunity to see me win a stock car race in person, that was pretty cool,” Hornish told NBC Sports.

Only a part-time driver, it was Hornish’s second Xfinity win in two seasons (nine starts) and his fifth overall.

But his celebration in August was different from when he was 25 and winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500.

“I had some friends from Indiana that were there who had cooked us some pork tacos earlier in the day before the race started,” Hornish said. “They made me two for after the race. We sat and talked for about 15 or 20 minutes, loaded up the motorhome and drove home and got home by 11:30. Got up and went to church in the morning. … It’s more of a relief now to win than it is sometimes a celebration, especially one that I wanted as badly as I wanted to win as Mid-Ohio. I just tried to enjoy the moment going through victory lane, hugging the kids, enjoying that with them because I know there’s probably not a ton of those left.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC Sports: What’s your earliest vivid memory related to auto racing?

Hornish: A lot of times, you’ve seen so much racing you’re not sure if, ‘was I really there for that or do I just remember it this way?’ One of the biggest things I’ve always thought about was seeing Danny Sullivan’s spin and win at the Indianapolis 500 (in 1985). The big part of that was … most kids …  you see a lot of racing, and you’re almost kind of waiting for the wreck. It’s a little bit more drama than the cars just going around the track. I remember seeing him spin and you’re like, ‘he’s going to wreck’ and then he comes out of it and he wins the race. You’re like, ‘wow, how cool was that?’ That just showed how close they were to the edge, even somebody that was good enough, had a good enough car to win the race, was that on edge that the big mistake almost happened.

NBC Sports: When was the first time you met Roger Penske?

Hornish: I’m sure that I had time where I talked to him about it or had talked to him previously (about) this. But I was about 12 years old and to kind of pay for my racing or learn things I washed trucks at my mom and dad’s company after school. I had a dream one night Roger came pulling up in this big motorhome. He wanted me to come race for him. I remember waking up and going, ‘yeah right, like that’s ever going to happen.’

I was 22 years old when I first started talking to him about the opportunity to come race for him. About 10 years for that to come to fruition. I remember probably the first time I sat down to talk to him was at his offices up in Detroit. I can’t remember exactly all that we talked about. It was a long time ago and to think at this point in time growing up thinking I would never have the opportunity to probably even meet Roger, but to have gotten to work for him for almost a decade and to have the opportunity of having him wish me a Merry Christmas or call me out of the blue to see what I was up to cause he hadn’t seen me at the track in a while. Lot of really cool people over the course of the years, but Roger was definitely about as good to me as anybody could be.

NBC Sports: What’s the most fun race you’ve ever been part of?

Hornish: There was probably in the go-kart days, there was a lot of times we’d go up to Canada and race up there. They really didn’t like me that much because it seemed like I won a lot when I went up there. So it was like they were always looking for something to pick a part, like ‘oh, your rear axles are 1/36th of an inch too wide, so you get disqualified from the heat race’ and I’d have to start from the back of the feature. That happened a couple of times at their grand nationals. I remember a couple of years in a row, they found some little thing to basically disqualify us from our heat race and have to start at the back of the feature. Come from like 32nd to win the race in basically a kart sprint race of 30 laps. I’d say those are probably some of the funnest times that I had, just because in karts you’re doing it a lot more for just the love of the sport as opposed to trying to make a living at it.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Hornish: My first car was a truck. I had a Chevy short bed, 1500 two-wheel drive, stick shift pickup my dad wanted me to get. It’s kind of funny, because with the exception of my Corvette that I got for winning the Indianapolis 500, it’s the only other red car I’ve had in my entire life. … I remember I drove that truck harder than I probably ever drove that Corvette I got for winning the Indianapolis 500. Just because I was 16 and doing burnouts and sliding around in the stones and stuff like that. My dad had decided I should get a manual truck because he knew if I was going to be racing, I needed to be very proficient in shifting properly.

NBC Sports: Do you still have that Corvette?

Hornish: I still have the Corvette, yeah. It’s very low-mileage. I think I got 1,100 miles on it now.

Sam Hornish Jr. after winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: How often do you take it out?

Hornish: About once every couple of years. Something always happens when I take it out. I either get a speeding ticket. I had an issue with one of the body panels coming off of it. With the Corvette, it’s got a molded body panel that’s the roof. There’s a structural support underneath it that’s the roll cage. … I got a recall (notice) for paint delamination on the roof. I thought, ‘it’s paint delamination. I don’t drive enough for the paint to come off.’

We were having a Halloween party for the kids so I was cleaning the garage out and took it down off the lift and went to clean it out, drive it around the street and get the fuel burned out of it, keep the injectors and everything clean. Got up to second gear and I heard this big pop and the body panel on the roof came off. I had to go get that replaced. That’s a little bit different than what I thought paint delamination meant. I didn’t know it meant a painted part was going to come off. They were like, ‘Well, we don’t really know. We haven’t seen that one before.’

NBC Sports: What’s the best advice or criticism you’ve received in your career?

Hornish: I had one my friends tell me, it was pretty early into when I went back down to the Xfinity Series back in 2012. We were actually having a beer talking about racing or whatever. He said, ‘let me tell you something. You’re too damn good to have some of the problems you’re having’ (laughs). I said, ‘what do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘if they give you a car that’s 35th and you bring it home 35th, you did all that you could do. If they give you car that’s a 15th-place car and you try to make it a first-place car and you end up 35th, that’s on you. So you got to be smart about taking what you have that day, trying to maximize, getting a little bit more out of it and you move on to the next day.’ I think if I had had that a little bit sooner and taken some of the weight off my own shoulders of thinking I was going to carry the car when it wasn’t right, I probably would have had some more opportunities.

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Harrison Rhodes

James Davison

Jeremy Clements

David Starr

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Christopher Bell

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Casey Mears

Watkins Glen, Michigan announce multi-year sponsor deals

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Watkins Glen International and Michigan International Speedway announced multi-year sponsorship deals for their Cup Series races Thursday.

WGI announced the Aug. 5 race at the road course will be sponsored by GoBowling.com. The 90-lap race will be called “Go Bowling at the Glen.”

This is not the first time the bowling brand has sponsored a Cup event. It sponsored the spring race at Kansas Speedway from 2016-17 and the August event at Pocono Raceway from 2013-14.

As part of the deal, Go Bowling will have two bowling lanes at the track for the race weekend.

Michigan has renewed its sponsorship deal with FireKeepers Casino Hotel for its June Cup race for “many years.”

The hotel in Battle Creek, Michigan, began its relationship with MIS by sponsoring pole day in 2014. It began sponsoring the June race in 2016.

TheFireKeepers Casino 400 is scheduled for June 10.

ISM Raceway (Phoenix) also announced the title sponsor for its March 11 Cup race.

The event will called the TicketGuardian 500.

TicketGuardian is a mobile ticketing insurance provider. When fans purchase tickets to events at ISM Raceway, they will be given the option to add TicketGuardian’s ticket protection coverage. This allows fans to have insurance on the tickets they’ve purchased in advance.

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Hendrick, Kelley Blue Book extend relationship through 2020

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Hendrick Motorsports and Kelley Blue Book have extended their sponsorship deal three years through 2020, the team announced Thursday.

The car pricing, research and valuation guide will be a primary sponsor on Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 Chevrolet in two races each year.

This season it will be on the No. 9 for the Aug. 18 race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the November playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kelley Blue Book has been partnered with Hendrick since 2014 when it had a one-race deal to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It went to a two-race deal beginning in 2016.

MORE: Driving the No. 9 feels like going home for Chase Elliott

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Danica Patrick has Daytona 500, Indy 500 sponsor; now needs ride

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GoDaddy will return to be Danica Patrick‘s sponsor for the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, the company announced Thursday.

Patrick said in November that she would retire from racing after competing in those two events. She has yet to secure a ride for either race but that was slowed by the lack of sponsorship until Thursday’s announcement.

A Chip Ganassi Racing executive said last week that the team was no longer in discussions with Patrick for her to drive for the team in either race. Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team would stay focused on its current operations instead of adding another car for those races: “We’re going to stay focused on that rather than put another temporary effort together and not doing it up to the standards that we would want to, so I don’t think you’ll see that happening with us in 2018.”

MORE: Danica Patrick confirms she is dating NFL quarterback

GoDaddy signed Patrick in 2006 when she was in IndyCar and followed her to NASCAR, ending its sponsorship after the 2015 season. While together, Patrick was the face of the company, appearing in 13 GoDaddy Super Bowl ads – the most Super Bowl commercial appearances by a celebrity.

“You could say, ‘we’re getting the band back together,” said GoDaddy Chief Marketing Officer Barb Rechterman. “It makes sense in that our goals are so well-aligned – she’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the Internet and turn their ‘side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers. We love it.”

Said Patrick in a statement: “This is definitely the way I want to finish my racing career – at these two iconic races, backed by my iconic, long-time sponsor. GoDaddy was there for me when my career was just really starting so it’s exciting to be getting back in the GoDaddy ‘green’ for my final two races. Our brands have always been powerful together, and I think it’s awesome to have them at my side when I go ‘all in’ with my businesses after racing.”

Patrick has made six starts in the Daytona 500. She won the pole for the 2013 race. She finished eighth that year, her best finish in the season-opening Cup race. She finished fourth in last year’s Advance Auto Parts Clash. She is eligible for that race this year. Patrick has made seven starts in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005-11. She finished a career-best fourth in her first race there, leading 19 laps. She has two top-five and five top-10 finishes in the Indy 500.

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Atlanta Motor Speedway accepting lucky charms to help Chase Elliott earn first Cup win

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The president of Atlanta Motor Speedway is hoping history will repeat.

Ed Clark is doing whatever he can to get Georgia-native Chase Elliott to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series.

To do that, he’s using the same marketing scheme he executed in 1983 in the weeks before Bill Elliott’s first Cup victory.

AMS is asking for fans to send lucky charms to the track, which will be presented to Chase Elliott during a special event there Feb. 13.

There’s no restrictions on what can be sent.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is winless after 77 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Bill Elliott in 1983. (Atlanta Motor Speedway).

His father went winless in his first 155 starts from 1976-83.

Clark put together the original lucky charm drive ahead of the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he served as public relations director.

“The promotion we came up with for Bill in ’83 created an amazing amount of interest and support from fans all over the country,” said Clark in a press release. “We received package after package full of good-luck charms, and it seemed like everybody was pulling for him to get that first win.”

Three races later, in the season finale at Riverside International Raceway, the 28-year-old Bill Elliott claimed his first of 44 Cup victories.

Fans can send their lucky charms to Elliott by shipping them to AMS at 1500 Highway 19/41, Hampton, GA 30228, with attention to “Good Luck, Chase.” Fans can also participate by using the hashtag #GoodLuckChase across the various social media platforms with pictures and messages to Elliott.

The Cup season begins Feb. 18 with the 60th Daytona 500. The following weekend, the series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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