Penske near decision to put IndyCar star Hornish in third Cup entry
LOUDON, N.H. -- Penske Racing appears to be expanding to three teams in 2008, and former Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. likely will fill that seat.
Hornish is expected to compete in an unspecified number of Nextel Cup races toward the end of this season, team owner Roger Penske said Sunday morning at New Hampshire International Speedway.
"We're looking at it," Penske said of the third team. "We definitely are very interested in doing that, but we have to look and see where we are with Hornish. That'll be a deciding factor on exactly what we do."
Hornish won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series championship in 2006. He currently is fifth in series points with four top-five finishes, including one victory this season.
He has been running a limited number of stock car races this year in the NASCAR Busch and ARCA series, most recently winning the pole and finishing second in the ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway two weeks ago. His best Busch finish this season was a 15th at Atlanta.
Shortly after his second-place ARCA finish at Michigan, Hornish said that because he is 27 years old, he must examine options for his future.
"After winning the Indianapolis 500 and the championship, I know it sounds strange for someone who's 27 to say there's no way for me to go up in open-wheel racing," Hornish said, saying he is too old to pursue Formula One.
Hornish has been grateful that Penske, for whom he competes in the IRL, has given him opportunity and options.
"I feel this is making me better," Hornish said of his stock car racing. "There is no substitute for seat time."
The IRL season ends on Sept. 9, and that leaves 10 Cup races for him to attempt to compete.
"We have to get in some more races," Penske said. "We have a pretty good idea what we would do there. I think he's getting his feet wet. This was strictly more seat team. He has four or five more Busch races to run and there's a possibility to run him in some Cup races at the end so he doesn't wake up next year having not run with these guys.
"We've not come to the junction where we say, 'Hey, what are we going to do?' " Penske said. "We've just said, 'Let's leave it and not make a decision and let things play out.' "
If Hornish decides to move to the Cup series fulltime in 2008, will he have the ability to run in the Indianapolis 500, a race the Defiance, Ohio, native cherishes?
"I'd love to see him still run the 500 at least, absolutely," Penske said.
More than likely Mobil 1, the sponsor on Hornish's Busch car and an associate sponsor on both Penske Cup cars, would be the primary sponsor on the Cup car. Mobil 1 and Penske have had a long association.
With this apparent plan to expand to three teams with Hornish, Penske said he is not in the running for free agent Kyle Busch. Busch's older brother, Kurt, early last week lobbied on behalf of his brother during a national teleconference saying Penske Racing would be "stupid" not to talk to his brother.
"I haven't talked to Kyle at all," Penske said Sunday. "We're pretty well set with where we're going in the future. People have called us about him, but I have had no conversation with him."
Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.