Hornish to give NASCAR a try in Phoenix

Published October 29, 2006

HAMPTON, Ga. - Three-time Indy Racing League champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish announced Saturday that he will attempt to make his NASCAR debut in the Busch series on Nov. 11 at Phoenix and race Nov. 18 at Homestead, but his long-anticipated venture into stock car racing will not lead to a Nextel Cup effort any time soon.

"This provides me an avenue to try something I've never been able to try before and see if I can do it," said Hornish, 27. "There's been so much speculation, and I've thought about it so long, it's getting to the point where you have to bite the bullet and try it and see if I can do it."

Hornish, who won his first Indy 500 and another IRL title this season, has been interested in testing his skills in stock cars since 2003, when he signed with Penske Racing, which fields IRL and NASCAR teams. Hornish and Penske Nextel Cup drivers Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch will split 20 races in the No. 39 Dodge next season.

Tim Cindric, who oversees Penske's motorsports programs, said the team might try to qualify Hornish for the opening Busch race at Daytona International Speedway, but added there are no Cup plans for now.

"You never say 'never,' " Cindric said. "If Indycar season is over, and it looks like the right thing to do, we might try it. Not until that point would we consider it."

There is much to consider for a driver who still has open-wheel ambitions and the desire for a life away from the track.

Though Hornish mentioned Nextel Cup goals - such as joining Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as winners of Daytona and Indy 500s, and becoming the first to win the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 - he maintained the IRL is his primary concern. Hornish said he has consulted a few drivers about his wish to drive stock cars over the years, with varying responses.

"It depends on who you ask," he said. "If they grew up wanting to be an Indycar driver they ask, 'What are you doing? You're doing what you want to do.' "

GIVE HIM TIME: Mark Martin said he was "more than surprised - shocked" that his replacement next year in Roush Racing's No. 6 Ford, David Ragan, was not cleared to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway today. Ragan has been involved in three accidents, one with defending Cup series champion Tony Stewart last weekend at Martinsville.

Ragan bought the prerace ride around the track with Stewart for $5,750 at a Speedway Children's Charity auction to have some time alone to apologize for last weekend.

SPARK PLUGS: General Motors announced the Chevrolet Impala will be its brand for 16 races in 2007, including all "car of tomorrow" events, all tracks less than 1.5 miles and road courses. It is expected to fully replace the Monte Carlo by 2009. ... Steve Spahr, 48, a jackman for Michael Waltrip's No. 55 Nextel Cup Dodge, died Friday evening after surgery to repair a torn aorta. ... Defending race champion Carl Edwards led the first Nextel Cup practice Saturday at 187.830 mph. Spring race champion Kasey Kahne led the final session (187.856).