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Indy Racing League

Friday, September 6

Hornish not likely to try NASCAR
By Bruce Martin news services

Sam Hornish Jr.
JOLIET, Ill. -- Because of his battle for the Indy Racing League championship, combined with his agent negotiating an extension with Pennzoil Panther Racing, Sam Hornish Jr. admitted that time is running out for him with NASCAR.

"Because of everything that has gone on with this season, we have put a lot of things on hold until after the IRL season is over," Hornish said after testing his IRL car at Chicagoland Speedway last Wednesday. "With all that is going on, I would say it's more likely that we won't be doing any NASCAR races next season.

"It's so late in the game right now that in order to properly do it, I would have already liked to have had a deal together. Any involvement would probably have to wait one more year."

Earlier this summer, Hornish admitted he had talked with Ty Norris, president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., about doing a selected number of Winston Cup and Busch races next season in addition to his full IRL schedule. Hornish was interested in competing in the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Norris expressed interest in adding Hornish to DEI's lineup, even if it were for just a few races. Since that time, Steve Park has had his contract extended for another year as the driver of the Pennzoil Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the Budweiser Chevrolet and Michael Waltrip the NAPA Chevrolet for DEI.

"What we are focusing on now is getting my contract extended with Panther Racing in the IRL," Hornish said. "I'm locked in with the team through 2003, but we would like to extend it until 2005."

Hornish believes he is in a position to get a nice pay raise, especially if he can win the IRL title for the second straight year.

"With Pennzoil extending their sponsorship to the team, I think Panther Racing is in a better position to pay me what I'm worth than last year," Hornish said. "Money isn't that big of an issue to me, but I believe I'm in a position to get an increase.

"If I win the IRL title this year, I'll be the first driver in the history of the series to win the title more than once."

Hornish is currently in third in the IRL standings, eight points behind the leader, Helio Castroneves, and seven points behind second-place Gil de Ferran heading into Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland. Both Castroneves and de Ferran drive for Team Penske.

"In a way, I do believe that we are upholding the honor of the Indy Racing League and what it stands for, that a team with its roots in the IRL can compete against the best in the business with Penske Racing," Hornish said. "And, if we do become the first team in IRL history to win the title two years in a row, to be able to do it against the two-time CART champion and the two-time Indianapolis 500 champions means that we have beaten the best."

The 23-year-old driver from Defiance, Ohio has made quite an impression in the IRL past two seasons and is one of the top young talents in American racing.

"Sam has done a terrific job," said rival team owner Roger Penske. "He said we have two bullets and he has one. There is no question that is correct. You're going to have to finish these last two races. We have not been as fast on the big tracks. For some reason, we aren't able to sustain the speed as some of the other cars have and that's something we have been unable to figure out since we went to Texas the first time.

"We need some of those other cars that run well on those tracks that aren't in the points race to run well and be able to take points away."

As for a possible switch to NASCAR, Hornish said his heart belongs in open wheel cars, but he is open to new opportunities in the future.

"If I win the IRL title three or four times, maybe it would be time for me to try something different," Hornish said. "I love Indy cars and I always want to race in the Indianapolis 500. I also have to ask myself if I want to race 36 or 38 times a year in NASCAR.

"It's funny -- people in the IRL say I need to consider racing in NASCAR and people in NASCAR say I'm pretty valuable to the IRL. It depends on which side of the fence you're on as to where I should go."

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