Commentary

Penske committed to keep entering Hornish into races

Former Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. has failed in his first three attempts to qualify for a Nextel Cup event, but Penske Racing will continue to place Hornish on the entry list for upcoming Cup races.

Updated: October 7, 2007, 6:15 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- It isn't three strikes and you're out for Sam Hornish Jr.

The former Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar Series champion has failed in his first three attempts to qualify for a Nextel Cup event, but Penske Racing will continue to place Hornish on the entry list for upcoming Cup races.

"We're going to stay on our plan to try to qualify Sam in as many races as we can for the rest of the season," said Walt Czarnecki, vice chairman of Penske Racing. "Nothing has changed. We'll go again at Charlotte next week."

Czarnecki, who also is the listed owner of the No. 06 Dodge that Hornish is driving, said they already have a primary sponsor lined up for the third team car next season.

Would they still consider Hornish moving full time to Cup in 2008 if he doesn't qualify for any races this year?

"I think that's a possibility," Czarnecki said. "The disappointment he has, and we all have, is he was 20th quick at New Hampshire. We told him not to drive it too hard and he missed the show by a fraction.

"At Dover, he had one hour of track time, then misses the show by four one-hundredths of a second. Circumstances haven't worked in his favor."

NASCAR's qualifying system works against a driver trying to break into Cup with a new car. Czarnecki realizes Hornish is in a difficult position when only eight spots are available each week in the 43-car field.

Hornish was 13th in qualifying Saturday at Talladega, but five positions too low to make the race. The top 35 cars in owner's points have a guaranteed spot in the field.

"It is frustrating, but I also understand NASCAR's rationale for going to the top-35 rule," Czarnecki said. "It's an economic reality of the sport that precipitated that decision.

"It is what it is. They are not going to change the rules for us or anybody else. We have to operate within that framework. The competition makes everybody better, and it will force us to get better."

With six races left this season, Czarnecki is confident Hornish will qualify for some of those events.

"Track time is critical and that's the whole point of this," Czarnecki said. "But for Sam, the guy doesn't win the Indy 500 and championships if he doesn't know what's he's doing. This situation is just for him to get familiar with this circumstance."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter