Thursday, Mar 30

Hornish Jr. off to best start of NASCAR Career heading into O'Reilly Auto Parts 300


During an outstanding Indy-car career, Sam Hornish Jr. routinely arrived at Texas Motor Speedway as one of the chief contenders for not only a race win but also a series championship.


He secured two of his three series crowns at Texas Motor Speedway and he still remains tied for the most Indy-car wins at "The Great American Speedway!" with three despite leaving the series for NASCAR in 2008.


Fast forward to 2013 and Hornish Jr. finds himself backin that familiar position as he prepares for Friday evening's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.


Hornish Jr., off to the best start in his NASCAR career since he began racing fulltime in 2008, arrives at Texas atop the Nationwide Series championship standings through five races. He leads Regan Smith by 28 points on the strength of top-10 performances in a

ll five starts, including four among the top five. Among those was his second career Nationwide Series victory coming at Las Vegas in early March.


"We've done everything I talked about in the offseason that we needed to do good," said Hornish Jr., who drives the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford for Penske Racing. "We're starting off the year and getting out of the gate good."


The victory at Las Vegas could bode well for Hornish Jr. at Texas, which is a sister SMI track and similar in layout for a 1.5-mile oval. Hornish Jr. has a pair of top-10 finishes in two of his last three visits to Texas Motor Speedway. He sandwiched an 11th-place finish in this event last year around a pair of seventh-place efforts in the fall O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge in 2011 and last year.


"The 1.5 mile (tracks), that's where our bread and butter has to be at this year," Hornish Jr. said. "Those intermediate tracks, that's really what our schedule is made of. (Las Vegas) was exactly how we wanted to go out there. I can't wait to get back to Texas. I have always loved going there."


Hornish Jr. is building off his most successful NASCAR season, which came last year when he finished fourth in the Nationwide Series championship. However, he is building in 2013 with a new crew chief in Greg Erwin and has seen immediate dividends.


"It was things that we did last year and we got to where we would run good, but we couldn't close, "Hornish Jr. said. "Really a lot of why Greg Erwin was brought in was once we got to the red zone to be able to help us punch it in. To be able to have all the pieces to come together the way we knew that they should, it felt really good."


Hornish Jr. is looking to capture his first championship in stock-car racing. Despite early struggles in his NASCAR career, Hornish Jr. knows what it takes to win a championship. A three-time champion in the IZOD IndyCar Series (2001, '02, '06), he and team owner Roger Penske have high expectations. Should Hornish Jr. win the Nationwide Series championship, he would become the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (2006) and a NASCAR top-tier series championship.


Even with the high expectations and IndyCar championships on his resume, Hornish Jr. understands that winning the Nationwide Series title won't be easy.


"Obviously when you've got a couple (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars that are running full time with Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler behind the wheel, as well as the Richard Childress Racing program having Austin (Dillon), the things we have to go up against, it really shows there is as strong a competition for the championship that there has ever been," Hornish Jr. said.




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