Tag: Austin Dillon

End Of The Road For Hornish At Penske?

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As the 2013 season winds down with just over two months left, most drivers have an idea of where they’ll be racing for the 2014 season. One driver who has yet to concretely answer that question is Sam Hornish, Jr.

Hornish is currently driving the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Penske Racing and is doing a great job currently leading the driver standings by 17 points over Austin Dillon. With a win to his credit this year, he’s finally performing at the potential team owner Roger Penske saw when he brought him over to NASCAR in 2008.

The problem was it was directly into the Sprint Cup Series without much preparation in the lower-tier Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series.  The result was finishing 35th in points his first season (2008), he improved the next year (2009) to finish 28th in points, and then regressed finishing 29th the next season (2010).

At that point a sponsorship shortage forced Penske Racing to only run him in select Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races. Focusing on only those few races on the Nationwide side, Hornish got a win in 2011 and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts.

He drove the full 2012 season in the Nationwide Series finishing fourth in points, while also driving 20 races in the Sprint Cup Series after AJ Allmendinger was released from the #22 car. Going into the offseason Hornish thought he had a great chance at getting that car, but instead Penske went with Joey Logano.

While it was a blow to his ego, he’s raced hard this year, and the results are showing. The problem is sponsorship issues are again coming up with the rumor being Penske will only run one Nationwide team next season. Currently it’s Hornish in the full-time ride, then Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski, Logano, and a few other drivers have been running the #22 Ford, which could win the owner’s title.

Odds are they will want to not only keep campaigning Keselowski and Logano, whom have gotten the team seven wins this season, but also provide an opportunity for development driver Ryan Blaney to get some races in. If sponsorship isn’t found, then I can see Hornish as the odd man out once again. For as much as Roger Penske likes Hornish, he just can’t get sponsors to feel the same way.

Hornish’s name has come up recently as a driver for the #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series. The rumor floating is there more interest from Hornish’s side than the team’s side. It’ll be interesting if they go the route of an experienced driver or a young driver and take their lumps.

I personally think Hornish deserves another chance in the Cup Series, it just might not be good to have it with Penske Racing. For all they’ve been through something is just keeping the combination from really clicking on the Cup side.

The Time Is Right For The Return Of Number 3

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There is nothing official for the 2014 season, but all reports indicate that Austin Dillon will be driving a number 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This would be the first time that the number has run since Dale Earnhardt died in a last lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.

The mere idea of Dillon running the number has been met with mixed responses from fans. One half say it’s time enough for the numbers return, the other half are opposed to the idea of using the number. In my opinion, it’s time to bring the number back.

The shock of Earnhardt’s death made it natural for owner Richard Childress to go in another direction for the rest of that year. Coping with a driver’s death is done in different ways by teams.

When Davey Allison died in July of 1993, team owner Robert Yates decided to skip the next race, but keep the #28 on the car. This came at the urging of Allison’s family. The same was done when Alan Kulwicki died earlier in the same year. Kulwicki was also the team owner, so the team was looked after by Felix Sabates until a buyer could be found, but also kept Kulwicki’s #7 on the car.

In 2000, Sabates was unfortunately put in the position once again as the direct team owner. Kenny Irwin, Jr. died during a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Sabates owned team withdrew from that race and the next week had re-branded the car from #42 to #01. It wasn’t until 2003 did the #42 reappear, which came after Chip Ganassi bought a majority stake in Sabates’ team.

Petty Enterprises had to endure the same situation as Sabates when Nationwide Series driver Adam Petty also died a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The team did not change the number, 45, but rather team owner Kyle Petty (also Adam’s father) decided that only he would be the only driver of a car with a number 45 on it. That was the case from then until the tail end of Petty’s career in 2007 and 2008 when he had Chad McCumbee fill in for some races.

It all comes down to how a team can cope with something that might be a constant reminder of a fallen teammate. For Childress and his team, the scar was large and painful for a very long time after not only losing a teammate, but a dear friend.

In Dillon, they have a driver who grew up with the number (Dillon is Childress’ grandson) and understand what it means to his father and fans. While he’s not Dale Earnhardt, Dillon will represent the number with respect and I think having a #3 back on the track will do a lot for fans to finally be able to get over the loss of a legend.