Hornish fails to make Loudon field, unsure about '08

LOUDON, N.H. -- Sam Hornish Jr. and crew chief Roy McCauley had to be the most unique combination on Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Unfortunately, they won't be for the remainder of the weekend.

Hornish, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, failed to qualify for his first Nextel Cup event as he makes the transition from the IRL to NASCAR's premier series.

McCauley, who began the season as Kurt Busch's crew chief, was by his side after taking a five-month hiatus to be with his wife, Amy, as she battles cancer.

If all goes better than it did on this crisp September day, they'll be together permanently at Penske Racing when the 2008 season begins at Daytona International Speedway.

"It's a good match right now," McCauley said. "Obviously, I had a situation that took me away from it. I can help him a lot and give him an opportunity to have good experience around him and have a great crew around him.

"We'll go from there. I can't predict anything. And I don't like predicting anything."

Predictions aside, it's a safe bet to say Hornish is planning to drive a full schedule. Otherwise, he wouldn't be trying to make all five Car of Tomorrow races and possibly two others over the final 10 Cup events of this season.

"I can't say that there's no possibility that we'd do it, because we wouldn't be over here doing this if there wasn't," Hornish said with a smile. "I look at it as a new challenge."

But Hornish remained firm that he's split down the middle on whether to run Cup or return to the IRL next season.

"The fortunate part is that there is not a lot of pressure from the team to make a decision," he said. "A lot of it is my decision. A lot of it is their decision as well, where they feel they can put me to best use."

McCauley's life has been full of decisions the past year. The biggest came when he opted to step away from Busch's car to help his wife through all the treatments that come with cancer.

The good news is she is in the recovery process.

"There's some days that are better than others as you would expect," McCauley said. "We're taking that a day at a time. I think she just wanted to get me the hell out of the house."

McCauley said the recovery is far enough along that he could return to the road fulltime.

"It's going to take a while for everything to get back to normal, but we're certainly on that path now," he said. "Her treatments are done. Her transplants are done. All the radiation is done.

"When you get into an illness like that, it can take a lot out of you. Certainly, she's just trying to get her strength back. Roger [Penske] stood by us through all of that. By golly we're going to stand by him."

That Hornish failed to make the race shouldn't be a huge surprise. This was his first experience in the COT, with all of his past Busch Series experience in the traditional car.

That gave him, including testing, three days in the COT.

"Which is not a lot," Hornish said with a laugh.

Asked what it would take for him not to move to Cup next year, Hornish said, "If you don't make any of the races, that would make it pretty hard for me to come back."

"But I've said all along that I want to run the Daytona 500 and I want to run the Brickyard 400," he continued. "Those are two things that I've had on my priorities list for a long time that I've wanted to do.

"And after you go do it the first time, you want to come back and you want to win it after that -- after you've had that initial feeling of just being able to go out and do it."

Hornish said the biggest factor for him as he looks at the change is to stay motivated.

"I feel like, yeah, I could stay around and I could try to win five Indy 500s," he said. "But I know that to win one race a year, there is so much luck involved just to win that one.

"I feel like I know what it takes to win over there.... Sometimes you just need a new challenge. The thing you have to figure out is if you're going to be happy doing what you're doing."

And the only way to figure out if he'll be happy in NASCAR is to race.

"To have an opportunity, you need to be in these cars a lot," he said. "You need to have the practice and all the test time with the guys, to have them trust you when they're around you -- and not want to punt you out of the way when you're around 'em, too.

"I know I'm not going to be happy doing it if I can't be competitive. So that's the biggest thing, getting to the point where [I can] win races and [I can] win a championship."

McCauley believes Hornish has what it takes to be successful in NASCAR. He also reminds that this is just a job, something time away with his wife taught him.

"I really enjoy the challenge of my job," he said. "But we also have to keep perspective on our families and friends. A lot of people mention their wealth by the number of championships and wins that they have. I measure my wealth by the friends that I keep and the family that I have. That's where I consider myself rich.

"Championships and wins, they'll come in due time. You can't necessarily have the time with family and friends when you need it. I think everybody in the garage area ought to look at it."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.