With lead in hand, Hornish returns to Indy

LOUDON, NH - JULY 13:  Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series CNBC Prime's The Profit 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2013 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

LOUDON, NH – JULY 13: Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series CNBC Prime’s The Profit 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2013 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Seven years ago Sam Hornish Jr. accomplished a feat that many young boys and girls grow up dreaming about — winning the Indianapolis 500.

Two years later, he achieved another milestone that many young race car drivers aspire to obtain — racing in one of NASCAR’s three national series. It’s one thing to make it to one of NASCAR’s national series, but to make it there and be competitive reaches a whole different level.

And, Hornish is doing just that.

When Hornish and his fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors hit the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Saturday in the Indiana 250 (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) he will be grasping a seven-point advantage over runner-up Regan Smith in the standings.

“It feels good,” Hornish replied when asked how it felt to be back on top of the series. “As I’ve said all along, we have fast Ford Mustangs and a strong team. We’ve had a lot of strong performances and a couple of off days. This championship is very tight, and it is going to come down to consistency.”

So far this season, Hornish has racked up 14 top 10s in the first 18 races and led the points for the first seven races before handing the lead over to Smith. After Sunday’s second-place finish at Chicagoland, he resumed his perch atop the standings.

Hornish’s hold on the lead though remains tenuous since the top-10 drivers in the standings are only separated by a scant 69 points. But with an Indy 500 win and a runner-up performance in last year’s inaugural NASCAR Nationwide race at Indy on his resume, he will be more than prepared to defend his lead.

Plus, winning at Indy holds more of a personal connection to Hornish.

“My mom went to the Indy 500 when she was pregnant with me and some of my fondest childhood memories involve coming to this track with my family,” Hornish said. “To win here in the (NASCAR) Nationwide Series would be amazing in ways that (are) difficult to articulate. … And I am grateful that I have that opportunity.”

In addition, to battling for the victory and protecting his series lead, there’s something else he’ll be competing for in Saturday’s race — the fourth and final $100,000 bonus in Nationwide’s Dash 4 Cash. Regardless of whether Hornish wins or not, the driver who places highest between him, Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers will win the bonus.

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