Follow the leaders: IRL's Hornish will also try NASCAR

HAMPTON, Ga. -- IndyCar star Sam Hornish Jr. is the latest open-wheel driver ready to give NASCAR a try.

Hornish, a three-time IRL champion and this year's Indianapolis 500 winner, said Saturday he will attempt to qualify a Penske Racing South Dodge for the Busch Series races in November at Phoenix and Homestead.

Juan Pablo Montoya -- the former Indy 500 winner, CART champion and Formula One star -- made his NASCAR debut Saturday in a Busch race at Memphis. He will move up to Nextel Cup in 2007 with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.

A.J. Allmendinger, the runner-up in this year's Champ Car World Series, has driven several Craftsman Truck Series races this fall and will also race in Cup next year for the new Team Red Bull.

For Hornish, the Busch races this year are an experiment.

"My big goal is to see if I can do it," he said at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he was scheduled to race later Saturday in the finale of the 2006 Crown Royal International Race of Champions Series.

"There's been so much speculation and I've been thinking about it for so long, it's time to do it," he added. "Making both races and finishing both races are my only goals right now."

Hornish said he remains committed to the IRL's IndyCar Series next season but plans to mix "a couple" of Busch races into the schedule.

Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing Performance, said the relatively compact IRL schedule, which begins in March and ends in September, is what makes it possible to run Hornish in some NASCAR events.

"We know and Sam knows what our main focus is for him, and that's the IRL," Cindric said. "But this is an opportunity that we first discussed when Sam came to our team. And it was time to make it happen."

He said Hornish could possibly run a Cup race toward the end of next season "if everything goes the way we'd like it to."