Penske undecided on giving Hornish points from Busch

Updated: November 10, 2007, 7:11 PM ET
Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Team owner Roger Penske said Saturday he hasn't decided if he'll move Kurt Busch's points to Sam Hornish Jr. to guarantee the driver a spot in the first five races of next season.

Hornish is leaving the IndyCar Series for a full NASCAR schedule next season, but his No. 77 Dodge won't be one of the 35 cars locked into the first five races of the year. As a former series champion, Busch has a provisional that he could fall back on should he fail to qualify on speed.

"We have a number of options and we're looking at all of them ... we'll see," Penske said at Phoenix International Raceway. "This isn't all about the first five races. This is about a long career for a great race car driver and someone who has delivered for us for a long time at Penske Racing."

Hornish won one of his three IndyCar titles and the 2006 Indianapolis 500 while driving for Penske, and the car owner has been preparing him for NASCAR since last season.

He will make his Nextel Cup debut in Sunday's race, his first start in seven qualifying attempts. He had a short day in Saturday's Busch Series event, spinning just 23 laps into the race and finishing 39th.

But Penske said the struggles have only made Hornish hungrier to try NASCAR. He's the winningest driver in IndyCar history with 19 victories, but has yet to find adapt to the bulkier stock cars.

"I think that's even made him tougher -- the fact that he can walk down the pit lane and look at his peers knowing that he's a great racer and he just needs the experience," Penske said. "I don't put that as a dent in his fender at all. I look at it as experience that will toughen him up."

Penske said the decision to move was strictly Hornish's, and he was prepared if Hornish decided to return to open-wheel. Now that he's picked NASCAR, Penske said Ryan Briscoe is the top candidate to replace him.

Hornish becomes the latest in a growing list of open-wheel drivers to move to NASCAR, following Juan Pablo Montoya, who left Formula One last season for a ride with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Since then, reigning IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, former Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneueve and former Champ Car star Patrick Carpentier also have chosen NASCAR.

Montoya has had a decent rookie season, winning road course races in both the Cup and Busch Series, and many believe his success has unfairly raised the level of expectations on open-wheel drivers. Penske said his team will go slow with Hornish, and teammates Busch and Ryan Newman will help guide his transition.

"I think our expectations are to try to provide him a good car, one that is competitive, and to try to let him gain experience," Penske said. "I don't think the Jeff Gordon's of the world and the people who are really superstars -- Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson and Kurt and Ryan -- they didn't get it right away.

"The level of competition is way at the top, and that's why Sam wants to race here."

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VETERAN ADVICE: With three Indianapolis 500 winners in the field for Sunday's Nextel Cup race, the veteran of the group offered a bit of advice.

When asked what Jacques Villeneuve and Sam Hornish Jr. can expect in their first Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway, Juan Pablo Montoya said "a tough race."

"You can get a lap down here so fast. Once you get a lap down, it's downhill from there," said Montoya, who finished 33rd here in the spring.

The tight confines of the mile track makes Phoenix a tricky place to race, and Montoya had his share of contact in the Busch Series race here last fall. He said it will take the open-wheel drivers time to figure out the give-and-take nature of NASCAR.

"I think when you run a lot of open wheel, people are used to holding people off," Montoya said. "Here it just doesn't work. And if you hold off the wrong person, they'll wreck you. It's pretty hard."

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MORE ADVICE: Patrick Carpentier turned to veteran Ken Schrader for help qualifying his way into Sunday's race.

The Canadian has taken over the No. 10 Dodge for Gillett Evernham Motorsports for the final two races of this season, and he'll race it full-time next year. Needing to make it into the Cup race on speed, he asked Schrader how to do it.

"I was on the wall when Jimmie Johnson went out and I looked at him going into Turn 1," Carpentier said. "I was like, `Man, I am really slow getting in that corner.'

"Kenny told me, `You do it like you lost your daughter and you need to get her back," Carpentier said. "That's how bad you need to want it. That's what I had in mind actually. I said, `I am going to get this thing.' I pumped myself up and it worked."

Carpentier qualified 24th.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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