Hornish realizes jump to NASCAR from open-wheel world a big one

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Crystal Hornish, wife of Sam Hornish Jr., is due to deliver their first child the second week of February.

Sam will be a little busy then, trying to make the field and compete in his first Daytona 500.

"I told Crystal maybe she should try to find a doctor she likes in Daytona," Hornish said with a chuckle. "She said she was staying in Ohio, so I just have to hope she delivers early."

Hornish, a three-time IndyCar Series champion and the 2006 Indy 500 winner, is making the move to Cup full-time next season. Mobil 1 will sponsor the No. 77 Dodge that Hornish will drive for Penske Racing.

Team owner Roger Penske made the official announcement Saturday night at his museum in Scottsdale, Ariz. Hornish realizes he's taking a bold step in his career by making the switch from open-wheel to stock cars.

"This could be the biggest mistake I ever made or the best thing I ever did," Hornish said. "I've thought about this every minute of every day for the last year and a half."

Hornish failed to qualify for six Cup events this fall, but finally got it done and made the field for the Checker's Auto Parts 500 on Sunday.

His move to Cup has been anticipated for months, but Penske said they didn't make the final decision until two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Hornish said he has a lot to learn against the best of the best in NASCAR.

"It's double the competition you have in IndyCar,'' Hornish said. "If you finish 10th in the IRL race, that means you're probably finishing 20th out here."

Ryan Briscoe, who finished fifth in this year's Indy 500 in a third Penske car, will replace Hornish in the No. 6 Dallara/Honda, teaming with Helio Castroneves.

Hornish will have to qualifying on speed next season for Cup events unless the team makes an unusual move. Penske Racing may transfer the No. 2 points to Hornish's car, guaranteeing him a spot in the field for at least the first five races.

Kurt Busch, who drives the No. 2 Dodge for Penske, would have a guaranteed spot as a past Cup champion. But Penske said the team hasn't made a decision yet on the points swap.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.