From Indy 500 champion to spectator

Joe Robbins/USA TODAY Sports

Nationwide Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. won the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2006.

I get asked a lot of questions about whether I will ever go back to IndyCar racing, or more specifically, will I ever race in the Indy 500 again. This question is especially prevalent during the month of May as the Indianapolis 500 is always a massive story. The answer is always the same: I love Indy and winning that race is the greatest accomplishment of my driving career to date.

I do have thoughts of running the Indy 500, but I am able to enjoy being a fan of the race without the anxiety I placed on myself when I was involved.

When I started racing go-karts as a kid, I set what I thought was an extremely lofty goal -- I wanted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. I felt that if I could do that then I would have done something worthwhile. The way it worked out I accomplished that goal when I was 20 years old. So I had to set some new goals.

Over the course of my open-wheel racing career, I was fortunate to qualify for the Indy 500 eight times. In 2006, we qualified on the pole and went on to win the race. It was unbelievable.

The next year I was offered a chance to run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Most people will not remember this, but since I had won the IndyCar Series championships in 2001 and 2002, I was able to run the International Race of Champions series for three years. That series gave me an opportunity to drive a stock car at some of the big ovals. I have to admit it was way different from anything I'd done behind the wheel of a race car in my career, and it was challenging.

So when the time came to decide if I wanted to switch from IndyCar to NASCAR, I thought since I had accomplished more than I could have hoped for or imagined in open-wheel racing, what better or bigger challenge than trying my hand in stock car racing.

It turned out to be an even greater challenge than I anticipated. I think that is what is meant by the saying, "Be careful what you wish for."

One of the stories I tell when people ask about my IndyCar success is that when I was 12 years old, I had a dream one night that I met Roger Penske and he asked me to drive for him. I remember waking up thinking, "Yeah, right, like that'll happen."

So, while it was a tremendous honor to run and win at Indy and an accomplishment that will be difficult to surpass, the Indy 500 is not likely in my future as a driver. It makes me happy since now I get to enjoy the race. I can watch it and then look forward to next year. When I was driving open-wheel cars, Indy was always in the back of my mind, and the month of May was a physical, mental and emotional roller coaster. It is certainly one of those things that one has to experience to understand.

Life has been exceptionally generous to me -- I've had dreams come true. I've also struggled, faced criticism and self-doubt. Now, I am enjoying myself, doing something I love that allows me to take care of my family and spend time with them. I am immensely fortunate and truly thankful for all of it.

Good luck to all of my Penske Racing teammates this month at Indy. I'll definitely be watching.

-- Sam

Sam Hornish Jr. drives the No. 12 Ford Mustang for Penske Racing. He will share his thoughts on and off the track with readers periodically this season. Follow him on Twitter @samhornish and on Facebook.

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