TALLADEGA, Ala. _ Earlier this week it was announced Shell/Pennzoil would be leaving Richard Childress Racing to become the primary sponsor for Kurt Busch at Penske Racing. With Shell making the long-term move to Penske Mobil 1 was forced out, leaving Sam Hornish Jr. without a sponsor for 2011. In the final year of his contract, Hornish now has the added pressure of courting sponsors while renegotiating his deal with the team.
Friday, Jay W. Pennell was able to catch up with Hornish at the Talladega Superspeedway to discuss his view on the situation and his outlook moving forward.
Jay W. Pennell: News came out this week that Mobil 1 is leaving – not to mention your contract with Penske is up at the end of the year. With Mobil 1 leaving, how hard is it now to move forward with the process of resigning with Penske and what do you think your outlook is on that?
Sam Hornish Jr.: A lot of things had to move around in the team in order for us to get everything reworked and to be where we’re at. Mobil 1 was not able to commit to us what Shell/Pennzoil could for Kurt, and obviously you can’t have to oil companies on the same team. It was a business decision so they could get two of their cars all worked out.
It was for the best of Penske Racing. We have a great association with AAA and some of our other partnerships. Everything I’m being told is they are committed to me and they can focus on finding the money for one car and we’re basically out to find the money for half a year to be able to do it.
We love Mobil 1. They’ve been a great sponsor for us. They’ve been at Penske for over 18 years, but as everything in life does, it changes. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with, what all happens. We’re real close on a couple things. We’ll see what happens.
JWP: With Brad Keselowski moving over to the 2 car, do you see Verizon stepping up – and you mentioned AAA – do you think between the two of them you can put together a deal for next year? Are you looking at other sponsors as well?
Hornish: That’s all the team’s deal. I don’t know exactly where all their headed with everything. I try to keep my nose out of it, mostly so that I don’t have the chance of spoiling it by saying something before I should. We know we have AAA contracted for next year and they’ve always said they’d be interested in doing more, so we’ll see what happens with that.
We’re just focused on doing the best we can for Mobil and AAA for the rest of the year. We have AAA and Penske Rental on the car this weekend. We have a lot of things going for us this year that our results don’t really show how well we ran. We’ll just keep working at it and do the best we can.
JWP: As a driver, when all of this is going on, does all of this serve as a distraction and how do you focus on racing and not the business deal.
Hornish: If you get in the race car and you’re thinking of all other things but driving that race car then you need to find a new business to do. You think about all that stuff when you’re out of the car, away from the race track or when people ask you about it. I’ve got a great amount of faith in Roger and Penske Racing. They’ve always done everything they’ve always said they were going to do for me and I’ve tried to do the same for them.
JWP: What’s the difference between NASCAR and the IndyCar Series when dealing with a situation like looking for sponsors?
Hornish: From the time I got out of go-karts until the time I got my first job here with Penske it was, every year, wondering what was going to happen. If you were going to have enough sponsorship money to go to the race. If you were going to have enough sponsorship money to be able to compete. You’ve been down that road all along. I’ve been real lucky, there’s not a lot of guys that can have eight good years of doing whatever they want and feeling like they can go in there and have a sponsor the next day. I know Roger and how he works, I’m sure he’s going to get everything around us set up for us on the track next year.
JWP: Sponsorship aside, how confident are you that you will be driving for Penske next year?
Hornish: Um, I’m fairly confident. Obviously you never know, but I think everything looks really good for us and they’ve been really supportive. We’re doing the best job we can. We’re still learning over here. We’ve qualified real well the last couple of weekends, now we just have to get our racing back to where we had been towards the end, middle of last year.
JWP: At what point do you start talking to other teams?
Hornish: I don’t know. It’s really early and the way that everything happened – this is usually stuff that happens in October. Just the way Kasey [Kahne]’s deal fell, then Shell/Pennzoil wanting to be conscious of allowing RCR and Kevin [Harvick] time to find what they want to do. Everything just happened so much quicker this year. It’s tough when this is usually stuff that we talk about in October. The good thing is it gives us that much longer to figure out what our next step is.
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