“He’s been real humble for the last 12-18 months, coming off being an Indy 500 winner, coming over here and aspirations to run up out front,” Penske said. “Maybe I made a mistake putting him at the top when he couldn’t practice, but the two of us decided to stay together. Obviously our goal is to run for the championship in Nationwide with Sam.”
Hornish can rattle off a long list of things he and Penske should have done differently, including maybe only running Nationwide in 2008 and not forcing the issue in the elite Sprint Cup Series. But Hornish knows he also had to adjust his expectations.
In IndyCar, he set out every weekend to win, and nothing but a victory was acceptable. But that’s not how it works in NASCAR, where the ability to crank out a decent finish can make a successful career.
“Roger says I’m my own worst critic. He’ll tell me `You ran really good. Why can’t you just be happy?’” Hornish said. “And I’m like, `because we didn’t win. You want me to come in and be happy finishing 10th? I can’t do that. We should be better.’ But I’m able to see now that even if I get lapped five times in a race, it’s OK as long as I sit there and learn instead of trying to beat my brains out and end up wrecked.”
A breakthrough win in the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix last November pushed Penske Racing the final few yards toward putting together a strong Nationwide program for Hornish, and he believes he’s finally ready to find the success that has evaded him in NASCAR.
In 13 starts last year, he had six top-10 finishes and his first career victory in a points-paying race.
“The races I ran last year, if we just kind of run that way this year, we’ll be in the top five,” he said. “We didn’t have any chemistry because we weren’t running every weekend, so I feel like we should be better than that this year. If we finish worse than third in the championship, I will be pretty disappointed.”
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