RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live
TALLADEGA, ALA. -- His tenure with Team Penske a thing of the past, Sam Hornish Jr. says he has moved on and holds no ill will toward his former employer, for whom he finished second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings a year ago.
"If we would have went out as champions there, (it) would have probably been a little easier to deal with, but I feel like a lot of that is in the past," Hornish Jr. said Thursday at Talladega Superspeedway, site of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events.
"I remember all the things that Roger (Penske) did for me and I remember doing my best to live up to the things that he expected from me and I feel like we both could have done things better along the way. We both did some pretty good things as a group together.
"? I know why they did what they did and I'm not the kind of person that holds grudges so I'm more excited about the opportunity that I have moving forward than I ever will be about thinking of what could have been."
The opportunity is a seven-race stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, driving the No. 54 Toyota. Saturday's Aaron's 312 will be the first Nationwide Series start for Hornish Jr. with the team, although he did step in to run the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway for JGR earlier this year in relief for Denny Hamlin.
Other scheduled NNS starts for Hornish this season are Iowa (May 18), Road America (June 21), Chicago (July 19), Iowa (Aug. 1), Mid Ohio (Aug. 16) and Kentucky (Sept. 20).
"I'm an optimist and I'll put a lot of stuff behind me and just move on ? I also remember that I started driving for Roger because I wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 and ? he hired me because he wanted to win an IndyCar championship and we both did that together."
Options to continue racing came his way after he and Penske ended their 10-year association, he said, including the partial schedule with JGR. Once he met with team officials, the decision was made.
"When I got the call that I was going to maybe have the opportunity to run the Monster Energy car and I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe (Gibbs, team owner) and J.D. (Gibbs, president), I walked out of that meeting and I'm like, 'I've got to give it 24 hours because right now everything in my brain tells me to go ahead and to sign for whatever they want and go for it,' " he said. "I felt like ? the way they presented themselves and the things that they said in that first meeting just made me feel like this was exactly what I needed to do.
"I felt the same way after 24 hours and the same way after 48 hours and the same way after 48 days. I just feel like it's a really good opportunity for me and it's really been difficult to wait five months to be able to do something with it, but on the same hand patience is a virtue so I will do what I can."
Kyle Busch has driven the car in the first eight Nationwide races this year, winning twice (at Phoenix and Bristol) while finishing no worse than fourth.
Hornish has a best finish of 12th in a plate race, and in spite of the long layoff, insists he's ready to get back in the car.
"I chauffeur my kinds around a lot," he said when asked how he's kept his driving skills honed. "I've gone to a few races starting off the season. Had the opportunity to listen to Kyle and (crew chief) Adam Stevens work together. ? I feel like a lot of ways the practice, the qualifying and the first half of the race or three-quarters of the race -- is me getting to know the team and all of those things.
"The good thing about this weekend is it's not one of those where it's high stress right off the get-go. ? You're not thrashing to find a little bit more speed. It's kind of there or it isn't. You can change some things, but it's not like going to Iowa. (By then) I'm going to have a whole lot more seat time."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE