Returning to the Sprint Cup Series this season was a dream come true for Sam Hornish Jr., especially because he would be driving for one of NASCAR’s most legendary names, Hall of Famer Richard Petty.
It would be his first full season back in NASCAR’s premier series since 2010, not counting the 20 races he ran in 2012 after A.J. Allmendinger was released from Team Penske after a failed drug test.
Unfortunately, Hornish’s desired dream season has morphed into more of a nightmare, with few bright spots for the former three-time IndyCar champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner.
In the first 14 Sprint Cup races, Hornish has one top 10, an average starting position of 26.4 and an average finish of 25.8.
He wrecked last weekend at Pocono with 40 laps to go and finished 41st, his first DNF and third finish of 40th or worse this season.
But ever the optimist, Hornish hopes for a big turnaround in this Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
It was at the 2-mile oval, the fastest track in NASCAR, that Hornish – a native of Defiance, Ohio, just more than an hour away – literally grew up at, first as a spectator and later as a race car driver.
“I love going to Michigan, it’s my home track,” Hornish said in a team release. “It’s a fun place, and some of my fondest memories are sitting in the grandstands watching races there with my family when I was growing up.
“Even when I was in the IndyCar Series, if we had an off-weekend, I would go there and watch the NASCAR race.
“I’ve finished second there in three or four different series so the next step is to win a race there.”
A return to MIS, especially in light of his showing in the last three races – 24th at Charlotte, 22nd at Dover and 41st at Pocono – might be just what Hornish needs.
“Michigan is a lot different than the two tracks that lead up to this race,” Hornish said. “Michigan is just so wide. Now, saying that, since they repaved the track it’s not as wide as what it used to be, but I think we’ll see more and more racing grooves this weekend.
“Kansas was repaved just before Michigan and last fall it finally started to widen out and it allowed us to be able to move around more on the track.”
Hornish’s best outings thus far: sixth at Talladega, 12th at Daytona, 16th at Kansas and 19th at Bristol.
One of his biggest weaknesses is qualifying, having started 20th or lower in 11 races.
He also has endured a crew chief change, with Kevin “Bono” Manion taking over for Drew Blickensderfer four races ago after Hornish’s season-best finish at Talladega.
But as he prepares for his eighth career Sprint Cup race at Michigan, Hornish is optimistic it will turn around.
“When you have a weekend like Pocono, you just want to get back out there and race,” he said.
“We’re all working hard and want to see better results. Any time you go to a track you like, it makes you anticipate the race weekend more.”