Hornish hoping to run Busch race at Daytona

Sam Hornish Jr. said it's time to ramp up his Busch Series schedule -- beginning at Daytona -- to see if he's ready for NASCAR. His IndyCar teammate Helio Castroneves has given it some thought, too. Both said they will focus on the IndyCar Series this season, writes Angelique Chengelis.

Updated: February 1, 2007, 6:07 PM ET
By Angelique S. Chengelis | ESPN.com

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. will continue to test the stock car waters this season.

Sam Hornish Jr.
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesSam Hornish Jr.'s first race in the Busch Series -- at Phoenix in November 2006 -- ended up with him finishing 36th.

Hornish, a three-time IndyCar series champion for Team Penske, will attempt to qualify for the NASCAR Busch Series race at Daytona on Feb. 17.

"Obviously, I'd love to run in Daytona," Hornish said recently while in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. "That's the plan for me."

Hornish competed in two Busch races last year, at Phoenix and Homestead, and he intends to run a limited schedule this year for Penske Racing South. He said he enjoys competing at Daytona, where he had two second-place finishes in IROC (2002 and 2006). Hornish also will participate in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this month.

"I wasn't able to make it to Victory Lane [in IROC], but I thought maybe this year could be the year," said Hornish, who said he was disappointed IROC has been shelved because of sponsor issues. "We'll have to see if I can get help in the Busch Series."

Hornish said his Busch schedule is not yet finalized but that he is looking at running 30 races this year, including the full 17-race IndyCar schedule and the Daytona 24-hour race. He said this will give him a real feel for whether he can handle the lengthy NASCAR schedule.

"Hopefully, we're going to get a lot of answers this year, as far as if I like it, if I like that long of a schedule," Hornish said. "We're looking at it to be 35 weekends, so we're going to get a pretty good idea of what that schedule is like. There's a lot more than just liking the car. Can you deal with the media? Can you deal with being gone that much? Do you enjoy it as much as driving Indy cars?

"It's something I don't expect to be easy, by any means, and that's why I want to do it, because I know that it's going to be something that's a new learning process that's going to be difficult."

Last year, Hornish started 27th at Phoenix and finished 36th and, in the season finale at Homestead, he started 24th and finished last.

One thing is clear, though -- his open-wheel career comes first.

"If we feel like anything that we're doing outside of that is being detrimental to that, we're going to cease to do it," said Hornish, 27. "The way I look it, it gives us an opportunity to do an extracurricular activity and have some fun and try to learn something new. The cars handle a whole lot different. It's just an opportunity to go out there and try to better myself. If it works and if it goes well, that might be something we consider.

"If it doesn't ... I feel I can go into that, do really well and still not end up doing that."

Helio Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Hornish's Team Penske teammate, said he is contemplating a move to NASCAR competition.

At some point.

"Yes, I do see myself one day racing in a stock car, but my mind, I don't think, is ready to yet for numerous reasons," Castroneves said. "I can't do two things at once well, so I can't be driving open-wheel and driving another car, and two, I do have a lot to accomplish in open-wheel. I have a lot of fingers on my hand, apart from the wedding one, and I want to put some more Indy rings [on them].

"I enjoy a lot open-wheel, and I enjoy being fast. Not that NASCAR is not. It's just a different concept of driving. I'm sure when I put all my mind and my focus into it, I know I can learn it and do well. Right now, the fire is still burning for open-wheel."

Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.

Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.