- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Most of the drivers Sam Hornish Jr. whipped on his way to winning at Iowa Speedway last week simply went on to the next racetrack.

Hornish went home.

For the most part, Hornish is fine with that.

Despite nearly winning the NASCAR Nationwide series in 2013, Hornish’s sponsorship money dried up - as did his full-time ride with Penske Racing.

So Hornish settled for a part-time deal with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 54 car when star Kyle Busch couldn’t.

Hornish drove it about as well as Busch ever did in Iowa on Sunday.

Hornish led 167 of the 250 laps and cruised to victory. It reminded everyone - including Hornish - that he’s still good enough to win races.

“It felt pretty darn good, I’ll tell you that much,” Hornish said. “I saw Kyle win so much last year in the car, and he’s a great talent. I felt like, if I could put myself in the same equipment and go out there and win, I deserve it and I belong doing this. If I can’t win, I need to figure something else out.”

Hornish makes it clear that, in a perfect world, he wouldn’t mind landing a full-time ride with JGR for 2015.

But after nearly 15 years in every kind of car imaginable, Hornish has embraced the opportunity to spend more time with his wife, Crystal, and their three young children.

Hornish began his career in top-level racing back in 2000 as a promising 21-year-old kid in what was then the Indy Racing League. He quickly became the top open-wheel driver in the U.S., winning back-to-back IndyCar titles in 2001 and 2002, and in 2006 he finally captured the Indy 500 with a thrilling last-lap pass of Marco Andretti.

By then, Hornish was already eyeing a jump to NASCAR.

He found life in the Sprint Cup series much tougher than open-wheel racing.

Hornish recorded just two top-five finishes in 106 starts with the No. 77 car for Penske, and he soon found himself running predominantly in the second-tier Nationwide series.

But Hornish promised himself after a humbling Cup experience that he’d never again run in a car he couldn’t win with.

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