NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Sam Hornish Jr.

Sam Hornish Jr.

2010 Ride: No. 77 Penske Racing Dodge
2010 Primary Sponsors: Mobil 1, AAA (3 Races)
2010 Owner: Roger Penske
2010 Crew Chief: Travis Geisler
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10, 0 poles, 29th in points

High Point: While the 11th-place finish wasn’t the team’s best effort of the season on paper, Hornish came within a thundercloud of winning the June Pocono race when rain started falling late and crew chief Travis Geisler left the team out in an attempt to steal a win. Unfortunately for Travis and Sam, the heavy rain didn’t come and the green flag came back out; however, Hornish held on to a still-respectable 11th on old tires.

Low Point: This team’s low point started May 1st at Richmond and followed a run of four straight top-25 finishes that moved the team from 33rd to 28th in points. An ugly accident at the short track relegated them to 36th, killing all their momentum in an instant while heading into the meat of the regular season. The driver of the No. 77 Dodge then followed this race up with finishes of 31st and 34th at Darlington and Dover, respectively, dropping Hornish back to 30th in points. A 17th at the Coca-Cola 600 finally pulled him out of that funk, but not until the season was pretty much in the tank.

Summary: As the season went along, I was sure that we were watching Hornish improve as a driver and become at least a weekly top-25 guarantee. But once the season had come to an end and I looked at some of the final numbers, you’d think he actually went backwards. In 2009, he had a pair of top fives, seven top 10s and finished 28th in points. But in 2010, those numbers dropped to zero top fives, just one top 10 and a 29th-place finish in points.

So why was it Hornish seemed to be getting better? Well, digging a little further, I found that his 11th-to-20th place finishes improved from seven to 11 and his runs of 30th or worse dropped from 18 to 13. He also cut his DNFs in half, going from eight in 2009 to four in 2010. So overall, there was an improvement in consistency, but the high-end finishes dropped enough to keep Hornish from improving in the points standings.

So, as hard as it is to pronounce a 29th-place finish in the championship battle a success, I wouldn’t call this one a complete failure, either. Hornish and Geisler seem to have the team moving forward to some degree and now need to work on turning those 11th-to-20th-place runs into solid top-10 finishes each week.

Also, three times this year Hornish posted results of 25th or better in three consecutive races. Admirable, yes, but that number needs to double and turn into top-20 finishes if he is gonna keep a career in NASCAR’s top series. And it wouldn’t hurt to crack the top 30 in the season-opening Daytona 500, something he’s failed to do the last two years.

2011 Outlook: As of this writing, Roger Penske says he’s committed to trying to run a third team for Hornish but doesn’t have the sponsor dollars to do it. He is good for the first five races based on his points finish this year, but beyond that it’s up in the air for Hornish. As of November 21st, Penske was saying definitely two Sprint Cup teams and two Nationwide teams, armed with a thought process that seemed to change by the day. The Sprint Cup teams appeared headed for Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, while the Nationwide rides were Keselowski and Hornish’s to lose.

Now, as of December 3rd, he’s saying one Nationwide team and maybe three Cup teams, with the Daytona 500 being Hornish’s only sure thing for 2011. So really, who knows. Personally, after being a bit harsh on Sam in some of my writings over the last three years, I do believe he’s gotten better and hope he stays with a full-time ride at Penske for at least 2011 to see if the improvement can continue.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2008 Grade: D-
2009 Grade: C-
2010 Grade: D

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