The glow of preseason optimism for the start of Sam Hornish Jr.’s tenure with Richard Petty Motorsports has slowly begun to fade.
The three-time IndyCar champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner has significantly struggled in his first six races at RPM and in his first full season on the Sprint Cup circuit since 2010.
The Ohio native has no wins, no top-5s or top-10s, has not led a lap and will enter next Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway ranked 31st in the standings — while teammate Aric Almirola is ranked ninth, 22 positions higher.
Hornish’s average start thus far in 2015 has been 26.0, which is better than his average finish of 28.7.
And in those six races, Hornish has finished on the lead lap just once: in his best showing thus far (12th) in the season-opening Daytona 50.
From there, it’s been one thing after another, as in the following five races Hornish has finished 21st (Atlanta), 24th (Las Vegas), 40th (Phoenix), 43rd (Fontana) and 32nd (Martinsville).
Hornish isn’t pointing fingers for the bad start – although if he did, he’d likely have to point at himself first.
He leads the Sprint Cup Series in an inauspicious category: he’s the most penalized driver in NASCAR thus far this season.
Hornish has been cited by NASCAR officials for 14 violations in the first six races, an average of more than two penalties per race, according to NASCAR.com.
In several races, Hornish appeared to be making gains and was working his way up through the pack, only to be pushed back due to a mistake behind the wheel.
Several of Hornish’s penalties have been for pitting too soon, according to the NASCAR.com analysis.
“We just can’t seem to get this monkey off our back,” Hornish said in a media release. “It’s frustrating for sure.”
Hornish appears to have a good relationship and good communication with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. But bad luck has followed the team around like a lovesick puppy dog.
Another area Hornish has struggled in is during qualifying. His best start to date was eighth at Atlanta, while four other starts have been 27th or worse, including 38th at Martinsville last Sunday.
“The guys worked hard all weekend to make adjustments and improve the No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford,” Hornish said after Martinsville. “I felt like we really had something to work with.”
Unfortunately, it wound up being more of the same story for Hornish, who finished 32nd, seven laps off the lead lap.
Still, Hornish is remaining positive heading to Texas, even though his best Sprint Cup career finish there is 17th.
“We’ll regroup on this off-weekend,” he said.