IRVING, Texas -- Five Super Bowl trophies, countless silver-lined, navy blue stars, and one pristine, polished and glistening NASCAR Nationwide Series cup.
Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. saw plenty of flash and dazzle during their trip to the Dallas Cowboys training facility on Thursday, but their eyes didn't fully light up until that big prize with the series logo emblazoned on it was pulled from a locked and bolted metal case -- a metal case that Hornish literally had to break open with a hammer, in fact, because it was so well-protected that nobody could find the keys.
As points leader Dillon and Hornish, eight points back, toured the grounds, immersing themselves in the rich history of one of the NFL's most storied franchises, it was easy to assume that it might've given each driver just that little bit more motivation. However, it wasn't until the finale -- the cup unveiling -- when it finally sunk in that the cup could be theirs.
"(Seeing the Super Bowl rings) didn't get me going as much as seeing the trophy," Hornish said. "It's cool to be able to come here. Obviously the Cowboys have a very storied history and a lot of Super Bowls and a lot of very famous players and people, coaches and an owner. They've got a lot of people's attention and have had it for a long time. This is something that you don't get to do very often, so for me, with the wife and kids and all that stuff, to have the opportunity to go out there and hang out with Austin in a relaxed environment is fun."
There were a lot of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' as the duo walked through the hallways of the Valley Ranch outfit, seeing everything from hand-drawn art of some of the team's legends, the team locker room, to three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo's personal mailbox. The walls were littered with inspirational quotes that head coach Jason Garrett had installed when he took over as head coach full-time in 2011, the most poignant and relevant of which was one that simply said "Champions finish." The two drivers stopped and posed for a picture under it, staring at each other, face-to-face -- as boxers do ahead of a championship bout -- before breaking out into laughing fits.
There was plenty to see and be drawn to, but when that trophy was pulled out and set on a table, Dillon and Hornish each couldn't resist the urge, immediately reaching out to get a hand on it.
"It felt pretty awesome (to have my hand on the trophy), looking at what we could have here shortly," said Dillon, who earned his first NASCAR championship in 2011 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. "I'm looking forward to hopefully celebrating with my guys. It's really important to be with my guys and trying to win this one for them, especially since we're moving up (to the Sprint Cup Series) next year, so we're trying to finish this off and it'd be nice to have a championship in both of the NASCAR series (that I've competed in full-time)."
Before they hit the pavement this weekend for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), each gunning for his first victory at Texas Motor Speedway, the pair of drivers joined in a friendly competition of "hit the post" on the practice field. The goal of the game is to hit each post of the field-goal uprights with a pass from 20 yards out. After throwing about 100 tosses each, Hornish got the better of Dillon, winning the third frame of a best-of-three contest.
Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. pose with the NASCAR Nationwide Series trophy at the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility.
The two then traded field-goal attempts, with Dillon hitting a 30-yarder, cowboy boots and all.
"We're just out here having fun," Dillon said. "When we get to the track, we're going to race each other hard and clean and do what we have all year; just running our races. It's been fun so far and it's getting down to the nitty-gritty and things change each week. I like the position I'm in with the races we have left."
Hornish, his closest competition, won't be the one to make it a dirty race, either.
"There's different ways of looking at it. You saw how things were last year with the head games between Brad (Keselowski) and Jimmie and all the other people that chimed in that weren't even necessarily in the title hunt but were chiming in to move things one way or another," he said. "I don't feel like I'm very affected by head games, but at the same time I'm not going to play them either. We're there trying to hit the uprights and when Austin would hit it, literally I was happy for him. It's fun to sit there and have some kind of competition and take your mind off of racing for a bit."
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