DALLAS - Sam Hornish Jr. has always had a stock answer when asked about moving from open-wheel cars to the more popular and lucrative NASCAR series. He wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 first.
So what about now?
“I’m never going to tell you that I won’t do that,” Hornish said Tuesday, two days after winning the second-closest Indianapolis 500 ever. “But there’s still a lot that I want to do as far as Indy cars go. I’d love to win another championship.”
How about another Indy 500?
“I looked at the (countdown clock at Indianapolis) and there were only 362 more days and 13 more hours last night until I get to go back and race it again,” the 26-year-old Penske driver and two-time IndyCar Series champion said.
For now, Hornish is getting a feel for what some NASCAR stars go through weekly: more travel, more interviews and more public appearances.
Hornish left Indianapolis on Tuesday morning, made a two-hour promotional stop in Texas — where he races June 10 — and then flew to New York to throw out the first pitch before the Mets’ game against Arizona. He arrived a hour before gametime, threw the ceremonial pitch to Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca and posed for some pictures.
“I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on ... and hope nobody wakes me up,” said Hornish said. “It’s something you dreamed about and thought about all your life.”
When Rick Mears won the first of his four Indianapolis 500s for Roger Penske in 1979, Hornish’s mother was in the stands nearly eight months pregnant with a future Indy champion of her own.
Hornish won two season titles in three years in the yellow Pennzoil car for Panther Racing. At age 22 in 2001, he was the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel championship in America, and switched to Penske after the 2003 season.
On the final straightaway Sunday, Hornish whipped around 19-year-old Marco Andretti and won by .0635 seconds, a little more than a car length. He finally won at Indianapolis on his seventh try, his third with Penske, who now has won the race 14 times.
“I think if I would have been leading the last five laps, I would have a good chance of screwing it up,” said Hornish, who overcame a late mistake in the pits. “It was pretty neat the way I was able to win it, because I didn’t have time to be nervous.”
It was Hornish’s IRL-best 15th career victory, and he’s won about $10 million, including the record $1.74 million winner’s share at Indianapolis. He has 61 top-10 finishes, including 38 in the top three, in his 89 career IndyCar Series races.
Penske also has NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch teams, but there are no current plans for Hornish to race stock cars.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Before returning next week to Texas, where he has won two of the closest races in IRL history, Hornish has the race at Watkins Glen on Sunday and an appearance on IRL owner and late night TV host David Letterman’s show Monday.
Hornish figures he will get to spend only about 24 hours at home in Defiance, Ohio, before being at Texas Motor Speedway to race for the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy.
“I used to say that between us, we had seven Indy 500s,” Hornish said, referring to the Texas racing legends for which that trophy is named. “Now, we have eight.”
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