LOUDON, N.H. – It's widely expected that Sam Hornish Jr. will try to run the entire 36-race Nextel Cup schedule in 2008. However, Friday could be an ominous preview of how difficult that task might be.
Hornish came up short in his first attempt to qualify for a Nextel Cup race. Of the 49 cars attempting to make Sunday's Sylvania 300 at here New Hampshire International Speedway, Hornish was 45th fastest, which wasn't good enough to get him into the 43-car field.
"It doesn't give you a real warm and fuzzy feeling," he said, looking forward to next season when he'll possibly have to race his way in every week, "but obviously it's something that you're going to go through."
Adding insult to injury, Hornish felt he should have made the field easily considering he was 20th-fastest in practice. But, he said, he was too cautious during qualifying, evident by the fact that his qualifying lap of 126.631 mph – nearly four mph off Clint Bowyer's pole-winning speed – was more than one mph slower than he was during practice when conditions were slower.
Chalk it up to inexperience in stock cars or, as Hornish suggests, overcautious advice.
"Everybody was telling me, don't over-drive it, don't over-drive it, don't over-drive it," explained Hornish, who said the last time he didn't qualify for a race was in 1993 when he raced go-karts. "Well, I didn't drive it hard enough. … I was just doing what I thought was the right thing, listen to people, and it didn't help me out that much.
Hornish will try to qualify again next weekend at Dover, where he plans to change his approach.
"Next week, I'll just try to be smarter and do things the right way and do it my way," he said. "Obviously, at certain points in time you do listen to people, but there are other times when you trust your own instinct and go without."
Hardly a rookie racer, Hornish hasn't exactly lit up the stock car world. His best finish in eight Busch Series races is a 15th at Atlanta, proving the learning curve is steep – even for an Indianapolis 500 champion.
"I'm not a rookie as far as race car drivers go, but as far as running this series, yes, definitely," said Hornish, a three-time IRL champion and winner of the 2006 Indy 500. "You look at it, there's good cars that go home every weekend from this. That's how it goes. There's nothing I can say about that other than you come, you try, you learn."
Hornish's plan for the remainder of 2007 is to attempt to qualify for the remaining four Car of Tomorrow races, including Dover, as well as "one or two" other races, seemingly all in preparation for next season.
"That's part of life," he said of failing to qualify. "I went to Indy for the first time with a team that took a car on a flat-bed trailer into the track while everybody else was pulling in transporters. I've been in this situation before and overcame it. It's just today wasn't the day for it."