New teammates Sam Hornish Jr., Aric Almirola have much in common
Both are family men and young fathers. Both still have something to prove, despite turning heads just to get where they are in their careers. And both are committed to making Richard Petty Motorsports a better, more elite organization.
It’s no wonder, then, that the pairing of new RPM teammates Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. has all the makings of a dynamic, harmonious fit.
It’s also not surprising that Almirola, who is set to enter his fourth season with the organization co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time champion Richard Petty, encouraged RPM executives to give Hornish a serious look when the time came last year to find a driver for the company’s second Sprint Cup Series entry in 2015.
Hornish — an Indy 500 winner, three-time IndyCar Series champion and the 2013 Nationwide Series championship runner-up — ultimately got the nod to replace Marcos Ambrose, who decided to make 2014 his final year in NASCAR and move back to his native Australia.
When RPM officials announced in October the organization’s plans for Hornish to succeed Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford for the 2015 season, Almirola enthusiastically approved. Hornish reached out to Almirola with a few questions about the company before signing on the dotted line.
"The people at Richard Petty Motorsports definitely sought my opinion and asked my thoughts on the handful of drivers that they had options to go out and get," said Almirola in an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com. "I thought all along that Sam would be a great addition to Richard Petty Motorsports."
Almirola, who earned the organization’s first berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season with his win in the July race at Daytona, wasn’t surprised that a driver of Hornish’s caliber would find RPM to be an attractive destination.
"I think it just validates a lot of what we’ve done over the past couple years," Almirola said. "You have a race team like ours that’s continued to grow from basically nothing. It was four years ago that they had just basically come out of bankruptcy, and so they have grown their race team back to a winning race team, a race team that can compete at the upper level of this sport, and getting a guy like Sam proves that. I think people want to be involved with Richard Petty Motorsports."
Now, Almirola is looking forward to getting the season started and being a teammate to the driver who spent last season in a part-time Nationwide Series role at Joe Gibbs Racing after spending the better part of six seasons at Team Penske, where he competed in the Sprint Cup Series from 2008-2010 and the Nationwide Series from 2011-2013.
Although Hornish is the less tenured of the two RPM drivers, Almirola doesn’t consider him to be any less prepared.
"Sam’s a little older than I am, so I think Sam will be the senior guy," said Almirola, who at age 30 is five years younger than Hornish. "Sam has a lot of experience, and I think Sam’s run quite a few more Cup races, probably, than I have and he’s been around the sport just as long as I have, if not longer, so I think it’ll be a good balance between me and him both leaning on each other."
While Hornish has not run a full Sprint Cup season since 2010, the Defiance, Ohio, native is no stranger to running up front and challenging for wins and championships.
In an eight-race Nationwide Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing last season, Hornish picked up a win at Iowa Speedway and three other top-five finishes.
The previous season, Hornish’s last at Team Penske, he won a race and finished second to Austin Dillon in a close, down-to-the-wire fight for the Nationwide Series title.
Hornish finished fourth in Nationwide points in 2012, and scored his first Nationwide victory in 2011 despite running only a 13-race schedule.
Hornish has made at least one Sprint Cup start in each of the past eight seasons. He owns three top fives in 131 Cup starts, but most of those starts came between 2008 and 2010 when he was still adjusting from lighter, higher downforce open-wheel cars to heavier, lower downforce stock cars.
Almirola believes the Hornish who suits up for Richard Petty Motorsports is much different from the one who struggled in three full seasons as a Sprint Cup Series driver.
"I think he’s proven himself in our sport," Almirola said. "He’s won several Nationwide races, he’s run really good in Cup cars and stuff, so I think he’s really going to be an asset to our race team, and I think he’s been at some really good organizations over the past few years being at Penske and being at Joe Gibbs Racing. Just being able to bring that knowledge of how they operate and stuff like that, and being able to apply that to Richard Petty Motorsports, I think will benefit us."
Aside from recognizing Hornish’s talent and experience, Almirola also relates to his new teammate on a personal level. Both are fathers of young children, and neither is prone to cause much trouble on or off the racetrack.
"Me and Sam both are pretty laid back," Almirola said. "We both have young kids, so we’re both family men. We’re not out ripping it up and partying and young and immature. We’re both older and mature and have a clear focus on what’s the most important thing to us and the direction we want to head with our careers and the direction we want to see Richard Petty Motorsports go, and stuff like that, so I think it’s going to be really good for me and him to work together."