About 12 months ago most of us were sitting around in shock at the departures. Newly-crowned series champ Dario Franchitti had just signed with Classy Chip Ganassi Racing - as a stock car driver. Previous champ Sam Hornish Jr was "thinking" about a similar move, losing himself in thought in a Penske stock car every weekend. Even previous IndyCar drivers like Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier were getting their boogity-boogity on.
But now, pffft. Of all of those drivers the last man standing in the Sprint Cup series is Uncle Sam, who despite remaining in contention for Rookie of the Year over thar might soon be following the exodus of open-wheel drivers AWAY from stock cars. So sayeth SI's Lars Anderson.
For the past few weeks the garage has been rife with rumors that Hornish is considering moving back to IndyCar in 2009. Hornish has been a huge disappointment this season. The three-time IndyCar champ's best finish was at Charlotte in the spring (13th) and his average finish is an underwhelming 29.5. He'll likely win rookie of the year honors, but that says more about the weakness of this rookie class than it does about Hornish's season.This information is provided purely for the sake of discussion, as there seems to be more than a few reasons why Sam wouldn't be back to the IRL just yet.
Why has Hornish struggled so much this year? I chatted with him earlier this season and he pointed to the fact that stock cars have far less grip through corners than the open-wheel IndyCars. Hornish simply hasn't been comfortable behind the wheel because he frequently feels like he's on the verge of wrecking in the turns. And this problem doesn't seem to be going away, which is why there's so much speculation in the garage that Hornish will be done with NASCAR after the final checkered flag waves at Homestead.
For starters, there's Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, who arguably drove as well or better this year than Sam did in 2007. We all know about Helio legal problems but so far Roger Penske is standing by his man, and should Helio somehow emerge victorious with his "the agent did it" defense there seems to be no reason to think Penske would kick him to the curb.
And as for Briscoe, all he did was win more races than Helio.
Additionally, it's been reported that Penske can only field two cars, because the Team Penske contract with the primary-sponsor-that-cannot-be-named-due-to-legal-reasons requires that Roger provide two and only two cars that look like a pack of smokes for each race. I suppose with enough wild-eyed lawyers in the room any contract could be changed, but that's definitely another hurdle.
And lastly, well, have you seen Sam? He's not gone on the full Tony Stewart diet (who by the way was shockingly dropped by Subway as a spokesperson), but Sam appears to have added some sympathy weight since the birth of his first child. I'm not saying the guy is out of shape, just that he could afford to mix in a salad here and there.
Regardless of whether or not this report holds any water, I look forward to innumerable reports of the massive migration from tin tops to IndyCars this winter. Har har.
(Hat tip to IRL-O-Rama for the article)