One definition of defiance is “a daring or bold resistance to an opposing force.” The pride of a community called Defiance, Ohio, put that spirit on display in the Nationwide Series race in Iowa Sunday. Sam Hornish Jr. made the hometown folks proud as he fought off fellow Ohioan Ryan Blaney to collect his third NNS victory, filling in for Kyle Busch in the ’54’ Toyota owned by Joe Gibbs Racing. Opportunities and victories have been hard won for the driver that has lived the highest and lowest moments a racer can experience.
“Won’t Back Down” should be the theme song for Hornish. He walked away from an illustrious career as an Indy car racer to compete in the NASCAR ranks. For those who don’t remember, the 34-year old left a sterling legacy with three IRL championships, a 2006 Indianapolis 500 victory and 19 career wins when he left open wheel racing in 2007. He was part of an invasion that included Patrick Carpentier, Dario Franchitti and a handful of others.
For one reason or another, many former open wheelers quickly faded away. In spite of the trials and tribulations, Hornish has hung in, even if it meant accepting a less glamorous role. Hornish raced at the Cup level for Roger Penske for a time; his struggles got him nicknames like “Sideways Sam.” He had his moments of brilliance- with top fives at Michigan and Pocono in 2009- and he even picked up a win the Sprint Showdown during All-Star weekend that year, but after three full-time seasons in the NSCS, Hornish lost his Mobil One sponsorship to tony Stewart and company over at Stewart-Haas Racing at the conclusion of 2010. Suddenly Sam was on the outside looking in.
It is only in the 2012 season, when he started 20 races, that Samuel Jon Hornish Jr. has raced on the Cup side more than once, getting a top five at Watkins Glen as a lone highlight. In NASCAR’s “second series”- Hornish experienced more success, as he won his first NASCAR race at Phoenix in 2011, while running a limited schedule. In 2012, Hornish placed fourth while racing a full-time schedule. 2013 would see him pick up another NNS victory, this time at Las Vegas, and challenging for achampionship. After finishing the season in second, Hornish found himself once again out of a ride, once again, due to a lack of sponsorship.
Hornish agreed to a seven-race schedule in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Before taking the checkered flag Sunday, he finished fifth in his first JGR start at Talladega.
He says he gets a “lot of crap” from Twitter followers who believe the veteran should be pursuing a full-time ride. For his part, Hornish says “I’d rather race part-time in this car, than full-time in a lot of others.”
For too many others, the adversity would either drive them out of NASCAR, or leave them accepting rides in lesser equipment. That’s not the choice of the man from Defiance. Making the most of his limited chances in a part-time ride sends a message Sam Hornish still has his racing chops, and that he has learned well the lessons of defeat. Sam Hornish Jr. still displays the heart of a champion- even under less than ideal circumstances- and this chapter of his life won’t without him at least having a chance to prove he could take the checkered flag against some of the best competition in the world.