Sam Hornish Jr. wants to make this very clear: his NASCAR career is far from over.
When he was released at the end of 2015 after just one season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty Motorsports, it appeared as if Hornish may have driven his last NASCAR race.
He looked for rides during the offseason, but none was forthcoming. As a result, he threw himself into doing more things with his family, yet kept his cell phone close in case a team that needed a fill-in driver came calling.
That call already has come three times thus far this year: once by Joe Gibbs Racing and twice by Richard Childress Racing, all in the Xfinity Series.
Hornish has not disappointed. He won his solo outing for JGR at Iowa (filling in for the injured Matt Tifft), came back for a second race at Iowa for RCR and finished sixth, and on Saturday at Mid-Ohio, in his second stint for RCR, finished a close second in a rain-plagued race.
As a result, Hornish has a combined average finish of 3.0 and an average start of 3.7 in those three races. The three-time IndyCar champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner definitely has proven he can get the job done. He just needs a good team with good equipment to get back into the mix.
“I’m really thankful that everybody at RCR and the people at Rheem (the sponsor of the No. 2 Chevy in Saturday’s race) gave me the opportunity to come out and do this,” Hornish said after Saturday’s race. “Hopefully, it will mean more racing in the future.”
Although he’d prefer a full-time ride in 2017, Hornish also would take a part-time ride.
“We’re really using this year to build for the next, kind of where my career is at right now,” he said. “I want to be in some good stuff, and I don’t care if there’s a couple races in-between. As much as I want to be out there full-time, I also want to do it the right way.”
Although he’s hoping for more still to come, Hornish has at least one more race on his 2016 schedule: a third start for RCR in the Xfinity Series at Kentucky on Sept. 24.
“Kentucky is one of my favorite racetracks and is where I got one of my first big breaks there,” Hornish said. “What it will all mean for next year, I don’t know, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity. It’s not fun to sit and to wait and hope you get opportunities.”
Hornish struggled several times during Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio. He ran off-course a couple of times, spun a couple of others and fell way back in the pack.
But falling back on the extensive road course experience he’s amassed in his lengthy career, he methodically worked his way back up to the front.
But the combination of heavy rain in the closing laps and the domination by race winner Justin Marks kept Hornish from mounting one last surge, losing by 3.707 seconds in a race whose average speed was just 53.347 mph.
“It was awful, I don’t ever want to do it again,” Hornish joked about the rain, which was moderate in the opening laps, gave way to a dry period, and then the track was inundated with heavy rain that made seeing – let alone passing – all but impossible in the laps heading to the checkered flag.
“There were some ups and downs and some things that I wish we could do over again,” Hornish said. “I feel the 42 (Marks) did some things that allowed them to be better in the wet with the setup in their race car.
“My hat’s off to Justin Marks. I knew he was a good rain racer, and that he was probably going to be the guy I had to beat, and that’s the way it wound up.”
Still, there was a lot of good to be taken away from Saturday’s race for Hornish.
“This is my second pole in a row at Mid-Ohio, this is my best finish at Mid-Ohio, I feel I’m doing the things I need to do, so I’m just happy to keep working away at it,” he said. “I got a little down with less than 25 laps to go when it started raining again because I knew we were a second and a half faster than everybody else on the dry.
“We wound up second, and I came up just a little bit short, but for what it could have been today, it ended up pretty good.”
Hornish, 37, then proudly reiterated something about where his career stands after winning the Mid-Ohio pole a day earlier.
“When I set the new track record, I said, ‘Not bad for an old guy.’ There’s still some miles left on these tires of mine.”