The three-time IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner is without sponsorship for 2011 – and if that continues, Hornish could find himself back trying to win another Indianapolis 500.
“If we can’t get full sponsorship for Sam, we’re going to run him in the Daytona 500 and there is a good possibility that, he and I talked about him running at Indy also,” Penske said following an unveiling of the new Pennzoil-backed cars for NASCAR driver Kurt Busch an IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves. “I’d much rather do a program that we can support [him] 100 percent rather than have a pickup program with not enough sponsors.
“We have got a number of opportunities. But … we just couldn’t get them closed at this point.”
Hornish was 35th as a rookie in Cup in 2008 and then 28th in 2009 and 29th in 2010. He never had the breakout year many anticipated. Before going full-time Cup racing, Hornish had only 11 Nationwide starts.
“Coming in, I made a commitment to him that we would run the Indy side, win a championship and win the 500 and when we did that, we would go NASCAR racing,” Penske said.
“The problem is you’re not allowed to test. We’ve got new cars. When some of the great stars came in, with Rusty [Wallace] we used to test before races. [Sam] didn’t get that benefit. … We probably should have started [in Nationwide]. But Sam is a hell of a race driver and we’re going to sort out what’s best for him as we go forward.”
Penske is looking for sponsorship in both Cup and Nationwide for Hornish. If none materializes, Penske would be left with a two-car Cup operation for Busch and Brad Keselowski and a one-car Nationwide operation for Keselowski. In 2010, he had three Cup teams and two Nationwide teams.
Cup sponsorships for 2011 have been running about $10-15 million, according to industry sources.
“We’ve got the points and we can take a sponsor to Daytona, which is important,” Penske said. “We’re looking to see how that fits in or we can go Nationwide. The cost of Nationwide is probably half the cost of the Cup side.”
Hornish will not participate in the upcoming Goodyear tire test Dec. 15-16 at Daytona because the organization only has cars ready for Busch and Keselowski. But the plan is for Hornish to do the Jan. 20-22 test at Daytona. He would be locked in the Daytona 500 because of his points.
“Hopefully by that time, we can extend [his season],” Penske said. “But the other good news is that he could be available to run the [Indy] 500.”
Penske said he has not determined a new crew chief for Keselowski on the Nationwide side. Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief from his 2010 Nationwide championship, will serve in that capacity for Keselowski in Cup next season.
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