Hornish near Cup decision

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 5, 2007

FORT WORTH, Texas - If Sam Hornish stays true to form, trusting team owner Roger Penske to all but make career decisions for him, the three-time Indy Racing League champion will be announced on Saturday night in Phoenix as the new third driver for Penske's Nextel Cup team.

Though Penske said Sunday a final decision would be made in next few days, he smiled, adding, "My inclination would be to go with him."

Penske said if Hornish goes to NASCAR, former IRL driver Ryan Briscoe, who has tested Indy cars for Penske, would move from the organization's American Le Mans Series unit to team with Helio Castroneves.

"Our goal from the beginning was to see if Sam wanted to run in this type of series," Penske said. "Number two was to be able to conclude a project with a major sponsor."

With both conditions apparently answered to his satisfaction, Penske said it was not of concern that Hornish had failed to qualify in six attempts at his first Cup race and has an average finish of 31.6 in nine Busch series starts.

Hornish will attempt both series, Penske said, in the final two weekends at Phoenix and Homestead. Penske could guarantee Hornish entry into the first six races of the 2008 season by applying teammate Kurt Busch's 2007 owner points to his car. Busch would be assured entry into races with a past champion's provisional if he failed to qualify on speed.

"(Hornish) is a good racer," said Penske, who has won 11 Indy-style car titles but none at NASCAR's highest level in 24 seasons. "You don't jump into the competitiveness the way it is. He's well deserved it, and we hope he makes the change."

Hornish told the Times in October: "A lot of my decisions are kind of based on what he thinks is the right thing. He's got a pretty good eye for what he thinks the right thing is going to be. I trust his judgment."

SEE YA: Zephyrhills' David Reutimann lasted just 90 laps when his No. 00 Toyota blew a motor and was retired.

"We were struggling and got kind of jammed up early and killed the right-front fender," he said. "Everybody stacked up on a restart and somebody ran through the right-rear corner and the motor blew up."

SPARK PLUGS: The sixth- through 12th-place drivers in the Chase were mathematically eliminated from title contention. ... Jimmie Johnson's nine wins are the most by a Cup driver since Jeff Gordon had 13 in 1998.