It was a while since the NASCAR world heard from Sam Hornish, Jr. He hadn’t raced since the Sprint Cup Series season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, and until recently didn’t have any plans to race at all. Instead, Hornish had been working as a substitute teacher and enjoying the extra time with his family.
“A lot of people told me, ‘Are you mad about where you’re at?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m getting to spend a whole lot of time with my wife and kids and do things with them that I hadn’t got to do,” Hornish said. “If I get the right opportunity, I’ll go out there and I’ll prove it was the right thing to do to wait.”
That opportunity came calling earlier this week.
Matt Tifft was originally scheduled to be in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in Iowa Speedway, but his doctor recommended he sit out this weekend because of a back injury with a disc issue. JGR called Hornish on Tuesday, asking him to fill in for Tifft, and Hornish jumped at the opportunity.
And Hornish ran with it.
Hornish qualified third and went on to win the race at Iowa Speedway, leading 183 of the 250 laps to win his fourth career XFINITY Series race and ninth for Toyota in the XFINITY Series in 2016.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Hornish said in Victory Lane. “I’ve just got to thank Toyota and everybody from Joe Gibbs Racing for getting me out here and giving me this opportunity. Got my wife and kids here and it’s the first time the kids have got to be here for one of dads wins so — I can’t tell you what this means to me. You work so hard to try to get a win when I have my kids here and the fact of how all of this went on and I’ve just got to thank God. He makes things happen.
“I was so nervous on Friday getting into the car thinking I’m going to make a mistake and man, to go out there and win the way we did I just can’t say anything more about it. Thank you TRD [Toyota Racing Development]. I hope Matt [Tifft] is doing well. I definitely want to thank the fans and happy Father’s Day to everybody. This is definitely one of the best ones I’ve ever had I can guarantee you that.”
Hornish’s motorsports accomplishments are distinguished. He has three career Verizon IndyCar Series championships, one Indianapolis 500 win in 2006 and finished second by a mere three points in the XFINITY Series championship in 2013.
While Hornish’s Sprint Cup Series statistics do admittedly leave something to be desired – only 12 top 10s in 167 career starts and never finishing higher than 26th in points – he certainly has shown himself to be a versatile driver across various forms of racing and on different types of tracks.
Though Hornish’s IndyCar experience made him somewhat of a road ringer, all four of his XFINITY Series victories have been earned on ovals. Sunday was his second win at Iowa Speedway.
“It’s so great to be here,” Hornish added after the race. “Last year was frustrating on a lot of different accounts, but I just stayed positive through the offseason and continued to work out and keep myself ready for if I got an opportunity like this, and when you’ve got a car that drives this good man, it was just a breeze today.
“It took us a while to get the car right where we needed to be for restarts but just definitely want to thank Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), everybody involved here at Joe Gibbs Racing. Man, I just can’t believe it. Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there. I just feel so blessed and thankful to God for giving me the opportunity.”
The fact that it was Father’s Day was just icing on the cake for Hornish, whose wife and three children were in Victory Lane to help him celebrate for the first time in his NASCAR career.
“Getting the opportunity to race was a good Father’s Day present,” said Hornish. “I didn’t even ask my wife. I just said yes and then I called her and said, ‘Honey, I might have screwed up here.” I said, ‘What do you think?’ She was more excited about it than I was, so I know I’ve got good backers behind me so thank you and just unbelievable day.”
This won’t be the last time you see Hornish in a car this season either. A little over a week ago, Richard Childress Racing announced Hornish will compete in two races in the No. 2 car in the XFINITY Series – the July 30 race at Iowa Speedway and Sept. 24 race at Kentucky Speedway.