DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Even though Sam Hornish Jr. fell an eyelash short of the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship this year, there was a point during his title run where the former Indianapolis 500 winner thought his options for 2014 were limited to nonexistent.
The harsh financial realities of big-time stock car racing conspired against the three-time IndyCar Series champion. Without support for his Nationwide effort next year, Penske Racing opted to cut back to one NNS entry in 2014.
So Hornish found himself in a job market where jobs are few and far between, and competition for open seats is intensely competitive.
Hornish, however, told reporters after Monday night’s NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Awards that his prospects have improved to the point of having multiple offers for next year, though he declined to name them.
“It’s really great to have an opportunity, and for a while there, it looked like there may not be any opportunities,” Hornish said. “But it isn’t just that. It’s almost like, when you date a girl, you’ve got all these other girls wanting to date you. And then, when you don’t have a girlfriend, it’s really hard to find one.
“Now I’ve got to tell somebody ‘No.’ Over the past couple of years, not a lot of doors have opened for me. So having to tell anybody ‘No’ is kind of a hard thing, because I know that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s always going to be that next door open. You always feel bad [declining an offer], so you try to treat people with the dignity that they deserve and give yourself the best options moving forward.”
Where Hornish might be going remains a mystery, but the 34-year-old driver from Defiance, Ohio, did provide one significant clue, indicating he’d rather drive part-time in strong equipment than full-time with an also-ran.
The time window is narrow. Ideally, Hornish would like to have a deal in place before Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona starts Jan. 9.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully having something done in the next … I can’t say two months because we’ll already be in Daytona at that point in time,” Hornish said. “[I’m working on] figuring out how to get myself in the best possible equipment, regardless of how many times I go out there and race, but just [wanting] the opportunity that when we do compete, we compete at a high level.”
Hornish proved this year that he could compete with the best, contesting the Nationwide championship through the final lap of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway before finishing three points behind Austin Dillon.
“I had a lot of people tell me, ‘What are you even worried about it for? You’re a three-time IndyCar champion,'” Hornish said. “We’re race car drivers. We don’t care. If you gave us grocery carts, we’d want to win the championship or win the race, because that’s our validation of who we are and what we do as a competitor.”
Thrust into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008 before he was ready — as he and team owner Roger Penske freely admit today — Hornish has avoided steadfastly a return to IndyCars, even to the point of sitting out the majority of the 2011 season when funding was no longer available to run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“Roger has given me some opportunities that maybe a lot of people would have said ‘Why do that?’ but we came really close to proving a lot of people wrong,” Hornish said. “Regardless of the final outcome, I think we showed a championship performance this year.
“We raced with a lot of good guys like Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. We finished second to a lot of them, we beat some of them and just came up shy of the championship.”
As Hornish approaches a new opportunity in 2014, whatever it may be, he can take solace in knowing he’ll be better prepared to take advantage.