HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - Sam Hornish Jr. crossed off every goal in IndyCar before leaving the series for NASCAR.
With three championships and an Indianapolis 500 victory, he felt there was nothing left for him to achieve.
Now, with one of the best seats in the series suddenly open, Hornish hasn’t changed his mind.
Hornish said Friday he has no interest in returning to IndyCar to replace Dario Franchitti at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Hornish said the team reached out to his representatives this week when Franchitti was told by doctors he can no longer race because of the risk of injury is too great.
“I expressed I was very grateful even for the call,” Hornish said. “A door opens and the reason still stands to not do it. It’s just any time I’ve had a thought or thought about that at all, it’s been like very minimal.”
The No. 10 is one of the best seats in IndyCar, and Franchitti won 12 races and three consecutive titles when he joined Ganassi in 2008 after a brief stint in NASCAR. Franchitti and Hornish practically crossed paths as Hornish made the full-time jump to NASCAR that same year.
He isn’t looking back, even though he heads into Saturday’s final Nationwide Series race of the season with no job lined up for 2014.
Could he change his mind?
“If I’m sitting at home for a while and I just got to go hop into a race car like, I’m beating myself up, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve said it a million times: I did everything over there that I wanted to do, and way more. The only goal I had when I started racing was to go to the Indianapolis 500. I look at that as a chapter in my life.
“I also have the responsibility to do the best I can to take care of my wife and kids. If I had a huge mortgage or amount of debt I had to pay off, I might think about it. But the situation I’m in financially, it allows me to be able to wait and try to make something work over here.”
And that’s been Hornish’s goal since he made the switch with team owner Roger Penske.
It’s been a struggle from the start _ he had eight top-10 finishes and led just 55 laps in three years _ and he was out of a ride in 2011 when Penske ran out of sponsorship for his project. Hornish ran just 14 races, only one in the Sprint Cup Series, that entire year and desperately tried to get back into a race car.
His shot came when Penske began piecing together sponsorship packages. There was enough money for 20 Cup races in 2012 and a full Nationwide Series schedule, and another full Nationwide schedule this year.
It’s paid off as Hornish goes into the finale trailing Austin Dillon by eight points in the championship race.
Win or lose the title, he’s likely done driving for Penske. The team owner told Hornish he needs to be racing in the Cup Series and he doesn’t have a spot for his longtime driver.
The fact that Hornish has nothing lined up is shocking to three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, also a former IndyCar champion.
“I was not a Sam fan when he was in the 77 (Cup car),” Stewart said. “I believe he has earned his right to be here. His program has changed. He has totally turned around. He deserves the right to be here in a competitive car.”
And Hornish believes he should have a Cup ride next year.
“I definitely feel I belong in the Cup Series,” Hornish said. “Taking the step back was to prove what I’ve known for a long time: given the equipment, the right people around me, what I would be capable of. Because I’d been so successful on the IndyCar side, I was going to pick up the car and carry it on my back if it wasn’t good enough.
“I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to be able to come out here and be in it long enough to prove what I’ve known for a long time. Pacing myself back and doing what I’m capable of, not trying to carry the car, also getting the right people around me, are the biggest things that have helped me out.”
So it’s important to him that his next move continues his forward progress.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty at this point in time, but I feel as if we’ll be able to make something happen,” he said. “It’s all about trying to position me to move forward in some way. I don’t want to take any more steps backward or be in something that’s not going to give me the opportunity to go out there and be competitive and have an opportunity to at least run in the top 10.”
But could he do that in IndyCar? If he took that call from Ganassi and jumped in Franchitti’s seat? It’s been six years since he last raced in the series, so nobody is sure he’d still be the driver who won 19 races over eight seasons.
“For me to say I could go over there and it would be easy, I don’t know. I think that I could do it. I’m almost 100 percent sure,” he said. “But when the rush or the thrill or whatever you want to call it, the desire to get in that car is not there, I don’t think that I would commit to it 100 percent. Then what’s the point of it? It’d be wasting everybody’s time. I’m appreciative of all the people that called and are interested, were interested, in me doing it.
“Roger’s asked me many times. It’s just not on my career path.”