Humble pie

FORT WORTH, Texas – Sometimes, you have to take a step back to move forward.

That's the case with Sam Hornish, Jr. this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. After six failures in the last seven races to make his first career Nextel Cup start, Hornish is taking somewhat of a break.

While you won't see him in Sunday's Cup race, Hornish will be back in the No. 12 Kodak Dodge in Saturday's Busch Series event at TMS.

While he's been trying his best, an argument could be made that Hornish has been pressing too much to get that elusive first Cup start.

Team owner Roger Penske seems to concur. After talking with Hornish last weekend at Atlanta, the pair decided backtracking to the Busch circuit might be just what the three-time IRL champion and the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner needs right now.

"This will be a great opportunity for Sam to get more seat time and gain more experience on the intermediate tracks while exposing him to another Cup track," crew chief Roy McCauley said.

Hornish does not view going back to the Busch Series as any type of demotion, agreeing with McCauley about the need for more time behind the wheel.

"While we've had the opportunity to try to make the Cup races, we haven't been getting a whole lot of running time in," Hornish said. "I'm definitely excited about (Penske) giving me the opportunity to get more seat time. We've qualified well for all the Busch races that we've attempted so far."

Indeed, Hornish's success in the Busch ranks is a polar opposite of his failed Cup efforts: He's made all nine Busch events that he's entered. Still, his best finish in all nine of those events was 15th in the spring race at Atlanta.

While he'll resume the battle to make a Cup race at Phoenix and Homestead, there's a good possibility Hornish may also run in the two remaining Busch Series events, as well.

Even with his hefty list of accomplishments in the open-wheel world, they mean little when it comes to driving a stock car.

"A lot of people look at it from the outside and don't realize how tough it's going to be," Hornish said. "We've been right there. Twice now we've been bumped by the past champion's provisional.

"We expected it was going to be tough. That's the challenge of it – what I find exciting – and that's going to make it all the more fun when we do get into the races and do get to run with those guys."

The biggest question for Hornish is what he'll be driving in 2008. It could be back to full time in the IRL, full time on the Nextel Cup circuit, full time in the Nationwide/nee Busch Series or a combination of races in the latter two.

"I don't know," he said. "It's tough to say. I think we'd be a little closer along to making the decision or might have made it by now if we had had more success than what we've been doing so far. But I think the big thing for us is not to push too far ahead or to be too worried about that decision.

"The good thing about being here at Penske Racing is Roger will be able to find a good driver to put in. If he decides to have me keep running Indy cars, he'll find somebody for over here. I'm not forced to make that decision because I don't have to give anybody a heads up right away because they might have to find another driver real quick."

His lack of qualifying success prompted reports this week that Penske would swap points from Kurt Busch to get Hornish in races in 2008. Hornish would get Busch's owner's points, automatically qualifying him for the first five races next year (by virtue of Busch being in the top 35), while Busch would guarantee a spot in the field by virtue of his past champion's provisional.

"I think it's been just media speculation," said Busch, adding he hadn't talked to Penske about it. "That would be great if a teammate could do that for a teammate. But, yet, it's a decision I think NASCAR would ultimately have to decide for us, 'cause it usually doesn't happen that way."

That's not actually true. The decision is up to Penske, not NASCAR.

Whatever happens, this experience has taught Hornish a valuable lesson in humility.

"There's a lot of guys out here who've had more races in the last month than I've had in my entire stock car career," he said.

"I had a dream to some day go to Indianapolis and qualify for the (Indy 500)," he continued. "I accomplished that eight years ago and everything's been a bonus since then. I'm up for whatever the next challenge is. That could be to win Indy again or try to win Indy in a stock car."