CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR has approved Penske Racing's
request to transfer the owner points from Kurt Busch to Sam Hornish Jr., a move that locks the three-time IndyCar Series champion into the first five races of next season.
Hornish publicly thanked Busch for giving him the points at the
Penske holiday party on Friday night. Bud Denker, senior vice
president of Penske Corp., confirmed Saturday that the team would
swap the points with NASCAR's approval.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said
the sanctioning body had signed off on the transfer.
"This would obviously help Sam as he prepares to run the first
five races instead of prepares to qualify for the first five
races," Denker said. "With a champion like Kurt Busch and the
opportunity to utilize (the points), anyone would be foolish to not
take care of the situation."
Hornish, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, is leaving that
series for NASCAR next season. But his No. 77 Dodge won't be one of
the 35 cars locked into the first five races of the year. As the
2004 series champion, Busch has a provisional position that he
could fall back on should he fail to qualify on speed.
Penske said last month that he had not decided if he would give
Hornish the points Busch earned because the focus was not on the
first month of the season.
"This isn't all about the first five races," Penske said at
Phoenix International Raceway. "This is about a long career for a
great race car driver and someone who has delivered for us for a
long time at Penske Racing."
But not taking the points put Hornish at risk of not making
early races, and a failure to qualify could cripple his first full
Sprint Cup season. Of the five new teams that started last season
outside of the top 35, all missed early races, fell into a deep
hole and never recovered.
This swap will prevent that for Hornish, who failed to make the
first six races he attempted to qualify for last season. He finally
made it into the field at Phoenix and Homestead, Fla., and finished
30 and 37th in his only two starts.
Locking him into the field will give Hornish an edge on former
open-wheel drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier, who
will not be in cars guaranteed a starting spot. Reigning IndyCar
Series champion Dario Franchitti, however, will enter the series
locked into the top 35.