Penske eyes Sam Hornish return to Cup

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Sam Hornish Jr. could be back in a Sprint Cup car by 2013, team owner Roger Penske said Sunday.

"That would be the goal,'' Penske said of the three-time IndyCar Series champion, who won his first NASCAR event on Saturday when he took the checkered flag in the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. "That kid is a heck of a driver."

Penske admitted he made a mistake by rushing Hornish from the IndyCar into the Cup series fulltime in 2008 with little experience in NASCAR's lower series. Hornish drove only 11 Nationwide races before his first Cup season and drove only nine during his three seasons of Cup.

During that stretch, Hornish had only two top 5s and eight top 10s in Cup. He lost his ride after the 2010 season, but Hornish and Penske remained committed to NASCAR by competing in a limited Nationwide program this season.

Penske said on Saturday and reiterated on Sunday that he hopes to have Hornish compete for a title in the Nationwide Series in 2012 with his ultimate goal to get him back in Cup the following year.

Penske credited the success Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski have had in making the Chase this season to the testing Hornish has done. He said Saturday's win was one of the bigger thrills he's experienced in racing recently.

"You're going to see a lot of Hornish in the winner's circle in the future,'' Penske said.

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