After waiting years with more patience than he ever thought he would need, Sam Hornish Jr. is getting a second shot at a full-time ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
The three-time IndyCar Series champion has signed a multiyear deal with Richard Petty Motorsports to drive the No. 9 Ford starting in 2015. Hornish is back in the game with something to prove after a few seasons toiling in the Nationwide Series.
"I'd taken quite a few lumps," Hornish said Wednesday. "I always saw that there was light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes you don't know if that's a train or not, you know?"
Turned out it was Richard Petty with an open seat Hornish could not refuse.
Hornish, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 champion, last completed a full Cup season in 2010 driving for Roger Penske. He drove three full seasons for Penske (2008-10) but made just one start each in 2011, 2013 and 2014 seasons. He made 20 starts for Penske in 2012, part of a lackluster first attempt at a regular NASCAR career. He is winless with only three top-fives in 131 career Cup starts and never finished higher than 28th in the standings.
Hornish struggled with stock cars from the start, missing his first six attempts in 2007 to qualify for Cup races on speed.
"I haven't achieved yet what I came over here originally for," he said.
Hornish will replace Marcos Ambrose, who is leaving NASCAR at the end of the season for his native Australia to drive V8 Supercars for Team Penske.
Hornish joins RPM from Joe Gibbs Racing where he competed part-time in the Nationwide Series this season, with one win and four top-five finishes in only eight starts.
"He's a family man who fits well with our core values and he will be a great ambassador for our partners. Sam's also proven that he can win races and compete for a championship," Petty said. "He came into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a steep learning curve from open wheel racing, but has shown in the Nationwide Series that he is a winner. We feel that he can get the No. 9 team to Victory Lane and compete in the Chase for us."
RPM will remain a two-car organization with Aric Almirola in the No. 43. Almirola made the Chase by winning the rain-shortened July race at Daytona, where he gave Petty his first win in 15 years.
With three championships and an Indianapolis 500 victory, Hornish had long felt there was nothing left for him to achieve with an open-wheel return. He gutted out seasons in Nationwide, wondering if he would ever get a second a chance to prove his mettle in Cup.
He fell just three points shy of winning the Nationwide championship last season and still had no offers for a full-time ride this season. Even with a runner-up finish, the best he could get was a limited ride this season driving for JGR.
"We had sponsors at the time and made a strong run for the championship in 2013 and found myself without a ride," Hornish said. "You kind of always wonder where things are going to land from that point. But I put my trust in, that if I found a way to put myself in good equipment this season and did the right things that something good would come along. Sure enough, it did."
Hornish's car still has no primary sponsor for 2015 and there are no plans for RPM to run him in the Nationwide Series. RPM will lose sponsors DeWalt and Stanley at the end of this season. Twisted Tea is onboard for a few races.
Drew Blickensderfer will remain crew chief on the No. 9.