Sam Hornish Jr. joins Richard Petty Motorsports for 2015 season
Richard Petty Motorsports made what was widely expected official on Wednesday morning, naming Sam Hornish Jr. driver of RPM’s No. 9 Sprint Cup Series car beginning in 2015.
Hornish replaces Marcos Ambrose, who joined Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 but announced last month that he is moving back to his native Australia next year to rejoin the V8 Supercars Championship, where he is a two-time champion.
"I feel like this is a great opportunity for me to be able to join a team like Richard Petty Motorsports," Hornish, who has made at least one Sprint Cup start every year since 2007, said following Wednesday morning’s announcement. "It really means a lot to me. I look at my racing career, and I’ve been very blessed to work with some icons in motorsports and to have the opportunity to work for ‘The King’ (Richard Petty) now after coming off of a year where I had a part‑time job working for The Coach (Joe Gibbs) and then ‘The Captain’ (Roger Penske) in the past.
"I feel like having the opportunity (at RPM) is great for me, and above and beyond, to be able to drive for Richard Petty now is just awesome."
Hornish’s agreement with RPM is a multi-year deal. Drew Blickensderfer, the crew chief for Ambrose since late 2012, will remain in his position and serve as crew chief for Hornish.
"Sam is a really good fit for RPM and will be a great addition to the team," Richard Petty said. "He’s a family man who fits well with our core values, and he will be a great ambassador for our partners. Sam’s also proven that he can win races and compete for a championship. He came into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a steep learning curve from open-wheel racing, but has shown in the Nationwide Series that he is a winner. We feel that he can get the No. 9 team to Victory Lane and compete in the Chase for us."
Twisted Tea will be a primary sponsor on Hornish’s No. 9 Ford Fusion for a few races, but RPM is still seeking new sponsors to replace DeWalt and Stanley, which are both leaving at the end of the year and joining Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2015 season.
"I think Sam’s demeanor fits really well with what we are here at Richard Petty Motorsports, and he’s going to be a great addition to our family," said Sammy Johns, Richard Petty Motorsports’ director of operations.
Johns added that Hornish won’t race for the team before 2015, but that the team plans to test with Hornish multiple times before next year’s new testing ban comes into effect.
Johns also said RPM has no immediate plans to do away with the No. 9, which is speculated to be heading to Hendrick Motorsports in 2016 when Chase Elliott will likely move to the Sprint Cup Series in a Hendrick car.
Hornish, a three-time IndyCar champion and the 2006 winner of the Indianapolis 500, last raced open-wheel cars in 2007 — the same year he made his Sprint Cup debut.
Hornish last raced full time in the Sprint Cup Series in 2010, driving for Penske Racing where he struggled over three full seasons in NASCAR’s top division. Hornish was demoted to a part-time Nationwide Series ride with Penske in 2011, before moving into a full-time Nationwide seat with the team in 2012 and 2013.
"You know, at the end of 2010 I don’t know that it would have been beneficial for me to have a full‑time Cup ride in 2011 because I’ve worked so hard to try to keep my head above water, and I really wasn’t in a good spot as far as confidence goes," Hornish said. "I’d taken quite a few lumps and I had always tried to work on those things. I always saw that there was light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes you don’t know if that’s a train or not, you know? I feel like having the 2011, while it was a big hit and I only did a few races here and there, it really gave me an opportunity to do a lot of testing, which I had never gotten that opportunity up until that point.
"Also the runs for Nationwide races and to have a good, competitive team and a crew chief and give myself an opportunity to win races just was a huge confidence builder."
After finishing runner-up to Austin Dillon in last year’s Nationwide standings, Hornish was left without a ride at Penske Racing and moved into a part-time Nationwide role with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. In eight starts for JGR, Hornish scored a win at Iowa Speedway, four top-five finishes and poles at Talladega and Mid-Ohio.
Hornish made his lone Sprint Cup appearance of 2014 at Fontana in March when he subbed for Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Hornish believes he’s much more prepared to move to a full-time Sprint Cup car with RPM next season than he was in 2010 with Penske.
"This is a different opportunity, for sure, than the one that I had previously," he said. "I’m not going to talk bad about anybody or anything like that, but there were a lot of different things that made that not work. The thing that I need to be thankful for over the long run is that I stayed in the fold long enough and held to my values of what I felt was going to get myself back into having the opportunity to be in a competitive Cup ride. Did the right things and had good people around me too in order to put myself in good positions and try to get back to this point.
"I’ve worked four years to get back to this point, and I feel like as a driver I’ve come a long way. I found my voice, really, as far as what you need to have as far as a Cup driver’s concerned about directionally trying to help steer your organization."
The 35-year-old native of Defiance, Ohio, has three top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 131 Sprint Cup starts. Hornish has three Nationwide Series victories in 107 starts.
Coincidentally, Ambrose will compete in Australia for Hornish’s former NASCAR team owner Roger Penske, whose organization has formed a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing — the longest-established racing team in Australia — to establish DJR Team Penske.