With an open-wheel background that includes three IndyCar championships, you might think Sam Hornish Jr. a shoo-in at NASCAR's slate of road courses, such as this week's Nationwide Series debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
But shortly after winning the pole position for last Saturday's race at Watkins Glen, Hornish explained the real role turning right has played in his career. And it might surprise fans to learn that this brand of racing contributed heavily to him deciding to pursue a full-time career in NASCAR.
When Hornish was reeling off wins in IndyCar -- including the 2006 Indy 500 -- he was doing it mostly on ovals, because that's where the series ran during his initial seasons.
It wasn't until after the schedule started including road and street courses that Hornish says he was finally able to feel competitively fulfilled and ready to open the NASCAR chapter in his life.
"I grew up running road courses, but then when I went to the Indy Car series I didn't run any road course races for almost five years,'' Hornish said. "A lot of people think of me as an oval driver only and it took me a while to get to the point where I could win and feel like I had opportunities to win on the road course side in an IndyCar. And as soon as I accomplished that, I felt like that was the last achievement of what I could do in my IndyCar career and one of the reasons I decided to come to stock cars.''
This weekend's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will mark the first time the Defiance, Ohio, native has competed in front of a hometown crowd since 2007 when he finished 14th here in an IndyCar. Hornish is hopeful fans will appreciate the similar twists and turns of his career.
And as he explained Friday revealing that his wife is expecting their third child, he has a particular soft spot for the race's sponsor.
"I went to a children's hospital up in Toledo a couple of weeks ago, and there's some things that I hope that I never have to go through as a father,'' Hornish said. "It makes me very thankful. I feel very blessed that I've got two healthy little girls and another one on the way, we don't know if it's a boy or a girl."
During a tire test this spring on the winding 12-turn, 2.258-mile course, Hornish spoke about the opportunity to race so close to his hometown.
"Just the fact we get to race in Ohio means a lot to me,'' Hornish said. "I really have a lot of pride in my home state and always enjoy coming back here. Not many times have I had the good fortune of running top level events in my home state so I will enjoy that. Just having the opportunity race means a lot so to win would mean that much more.''
And he returns to the track with his No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Ford only three-points behind Austin Dillon in the Nationwide Series championships standings.
After winning the Coors Light Pole last week and finishing second to Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski at Watkins Glen, Hornish couldn't be more optimistic about his chances in his home state.
Once considered an unknown quantity, Hornish now believes these back-to-back road course tests could make the difference in his earning his first NASCAR tittle.
"We finished in top-five of last five road courses I ran. So I feel pretty good about where we're at and my abilities,'' Hornish said. "We just need to be smart and not take too many chances. Yeah, we want to win, but we also know these are great opportunities to gain points on people.''
As he indicated, Hornish has top-five finishes in his last five road course races -- highlighted by back-to-back pole positions and podium finishes at Watkins Glen in 2012-13. Last week, Hornish led the championship contenders, who with the exception of 12th-place Dillon, all finished in the top five.
"I feel like the confidence I have in my team and myself right now far exceeds any I had in first couple years running stock cars and will hopefully just to continue to grow as I learn about these cars and do the right things,'' Hornish said. "I like going to these road courses. But these two races and Bristol, Tenn., (next week) are dependent on our championship hopes. I feel like we have all the potential to gain points these next three weeks and take the lead in the championship.
"But I also know they're a little like restrictor-plate races in the fact (that) we can't necessarily control our destiny 100 percent. I do know we have tons of potential.''
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