NASCAR Media Conference Breakout Session
Sam Hornish, Jr.
November 14, 2013
Q. Why did you wear a white cowboy hat to the press conference?
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't know. I didn't have time to find one. I barely had time enough to get myself around this morning.
Q. How do you approach the weekend basically starting with qualifying and how important is qualifying, track position, to start out with? How do you approach the weekend for the race?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I'm pretty sure that this is really going to start even before that, getting the setup. Qualifying is not end all, be all important. We'd like to start out towards the front, get ourselves a great pit stall.
This is not make or break for us, we got to go all out, because a lot of things that can happen. With the way tires wear here, debris, all those types of things, we can put ourselves in a bad position by trying to lead the most laps and have something bad happen at the end of the race.
We have to be smart about it, kind of run our own race, do what's comfortable for us and put us in the best position for the end.
Q. I believe you'd be the first IndyCar winner since Tony to win the title here. What would that mean to you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Since Tony, other than Tony. It would be pretty cool. Obviously it's not on the Cup Series. I feel like when you look at the amount of people that came over, I'd been thinking about this for a while, something I wanted to do. I ran the IROC races, Nationwide races. Pretty soon here come a couple people that wanted to do it. It made it look like everybody was trying to do it, even though I put a lot of thought and emphasis into wanting to do this.
I think the biggest thing for me is it would for sure mean a lot. I've came a long way. You want to be at the top level of whatever you're doing. I feel like this would mean a lot to me, but I also know that my opinion of myself is kind of what matters the most.
I know that I've done a good job this year. Each part of our team has had things that have kept us from having more points, whether it was pit crew, driver, engine, car, calls made. That's what being part of a team is about: you accept each other for the mistakes they've made, you go out there and try to do the best to make us all better as a team.
Q. (Question regarding testing.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There was basically no testing at any tracks we could run at back then. The times I was testing, you could go to Kentucky, which you get there on a day it wasn't raining or snowing or something like that, that was a little bit difficult. It was basically one place you could test for a mile‑and‑a‑half type of stuff.
It was also a switch‑over with a new car, the Car of Tomorrow. It made it a little bit difficult because of having two teammates that really didn't know the direction they wanted to head with this car either.
Neither one of them were where they wanted to be at. I didn't know how to lean on them. I don't know if that would have worked even if I did at that point in time.
Q. (No microphone.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Nothing new at this point in time. Continue to talk to people, try to figure out what the best option is going to be, what the options are actually. There's a lot of uncertainty at this point in time. I feel we'll be able to make something happen.
Like I said in the past, it's all about trying to position me to move forward in some way. I don't want to take any more steps backwards or be in something that's not going to give me the opportunity to go out there and be competitive, have an opportunity to at least run in the top 10.
Q. Is that taking the joy out of this title with all the uncertainty?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It makes for a lot more questions to answer. You guys are going to ask me about something. This is something that unfortunately I don't have any control over really. It's a lot about talking to people, trying to figure out what it's going to end up being.
I try not to take that into the racecar at all with me. I try to focus on the task at hand, put all that out of my mind. It's not going to help me do anything to win a championship.
Q. Is it frustrating you put together this season, racing for a championship, and you don't know what you're doing next year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: On one hand it's very frustrating. On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to be in this sport long enough to prove to myself and other people what I'm capable of. It's a lot better than having it happen last year.
I feel like it's not optimal, but I'm appreciative to have had the opportunities that I have. Hopefully there will continue to be more in the future.
I look at 2011 was a really good thing for me, not only on the family side of things, but also just in general, for the racing part of my life. It wouldn't be optimal to run a part‑time schedule, but it might help me out. I might be able to go do testing, might be able to learn a lot of other things, to be able to forge forward and be even better in the next go‑around.
Q. You've been with the Penske organization for a lot of years. Talk about the influence that Roger has had on your career.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Roger Penske had a lot of influence on my career even before I started racing. I was always a fan of the Penske IndyCar drivers. There's been a lot of things that have happened in my life because of Roger, even before I became a part of the team. I knew in order to win the Indianapolis 500, driving for Roger was going to give me the best opportunity to do that.
We decided to come upon this experiment. It's been great to work here. Hopefully it's not the end of it. I think Roger will continue to be a good friend of mine, and I'll do the same no matter how this all turns out.
Q. In recent weeks, what kind of guidance has he given you?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: He said at one point, Don't get too upside down about this, there's a lot of things that can happen. I'm like, RPM, I'm still going to go out there and work to the best of my ability. We're going to work at it and try to do everything we can to win the championship.
Q. How do you defend the lead without being defensive in the race?
AUSTIN DILLON: You just go to race. You go to race. You go out there to win the race.
We've done it the last five weeks. Same points lead. This is just another week. Go out there, run in the top five, try to give yourself a chance to win, qualify up front. Want to sit on the pole, try to lead a lap early. I think we can do that.
Q. Given the level of consistency you've had this season, what is your level of confidence going into this race?
AUSTIN DILLON: Very confident. I'm very confident every time we show up. My crew chief, crew, are in a great point where everybody feels like they're mentally comfortable with where they're at. I get to hang out with my guys daily at the shop. I'm in the shop every day.
They're just ready. They're as ready as I am. We're focused. We know what our job is this weekend. We got to go accomplish it.
Q. How about qualifying for you? How important is that for you?
AUSTIN DILLON: Well, I'd love to qualify well. I feel like sitting on the pole is something that's important to me and to our guys. I think we have a good shot at it. Has a qualify averaging finish of 2.4, so it qualifies well and runs up front.
Q. You were asked about having something to prove. Do you feel it's been more this year than in years past or been kind of a constant thing where people have tested your measure, I guess?
AUSTIN DILLON: From the very beginning I've been tested. It's nothing new. I don't think it's any more this year than the last year or the year before that or even the first year I started. Probably more the first two, three years when you're running go‑karts, Bandoleros. Every year it's been this way. I'm used to it. It's nothing to me really, nothing at all.
Q. How much is the number?
AUSTIN DILLON: I feel like a lot of it is the number. I feel the pressure of the number because I want to make it run well for the fans, keep it up front.
It's a very special number to our family. As far as like you said, having the opportunity, the equipment, that stuff is always going to be with me from the very beginning. The number is more for me, putting pressure on myself. I like doing that. It's something that pushes me.
Not everybody can say they have a number that pushes them, and I can, so that's nice.
Q. Any word yet on that number for next year?
AUSTIN DILLON: We're getting close. I think we're going to announce it pretty soon. Everybody wants it to happen now, and I do too. We got some cool stuff planned to make the announcement. I think you'll hear about it soon.
Q. Talk a little bit about the beard.
AUSTIN DILLON: You like the beard? I don't know. I grow it. I hunt a lot. I'm going to Kansas and Illinois after this season to hunt. I was in Wyoming last week. It works well for hunting season. It just goes along with the hat, I guess, well.
Q. Second championship, do you think it's harder than the first one?
AUSTIN DILLON: The first one was really hard. I'm not as nervous about this one. The first one, I was still a lot younger. Still kind of in the proving point. I have a lot to prove to a lot of people. That was early on in the career, trying to get a sponsor for the Nationwide Series. That was definitely one I felt like we had to win.
This one, you know, I'm very confident in. Got a ring already. Just go out there, do my job. If we accomplish what we want to do, I feel like we'll have the chance to do it. Sam has been a great competitor all year long. We just go out there and run our race. Either way, I feel like we've had a good year.
Q. (No microphone.)
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think that's very cool. Greg Biffle has two of them. It means a lot if you can do that. I think anytime you're in a championship battle, you want to be able to capitalize on it because they don't happen very often. So they're all important.
That's what makes these fun, too. We're in a tight battle. If it wasn't tight, it wouldn't be any fun.
Q. You have been amazingly consistent throughout the years. Do you feel there have been any ups and downs? How much has been what you've done driving‑wise but what the team has given you week in, week out?
AUSTIN DILLON: There are times you can look back and I feel I got frustrated on the track and made a mistake. But there's very few. Over a 32‑week period, it's pretty easy to come up and get frustrated in one week.
The team is going to have bad weeks also. It's just a part of it. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be in this situation that we are. We did a good job to get here.
Q. (No microphone.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: The way I look at it is if I win the race and lead the most laps, those guys are taken care of, because the 54 can't do it. The manufacturer is taken care of. We only worry about what Austin does.
The thing that I continue to think about is what happens if we have to battle the 22 at the end of the race and they're trying to get a point, I'm trying to get a point, all those good things.
We want to go out there and we want to be strong, do all the things we need to. It's great that on both sides of our organization we have the opportunity to win championships. I feel that really shows how strong we've been this year. I think if we go out there and we do the things that we know how to, we ought to be able to at least come home with one of them.
Q. As far as winning a championship, multiple championships, do they get harder?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: On the IndyCar side, they kind of continued to be easier for me just because I'd been in that situation. But it's been seven years since I've been in a real championship run.
It has been a little bit. The thing I need to continue to do is just go out there and focus on ourselves because that's the only thing that matters at this point in time. I can't change how he's going to run. I can't change how anybody else does. I can only take care of what the 12 car does, being smart, running the race, getting the best possible finish we can.
Anytime we've taken that focus off it this year, whether it was trying to win races, beat the 54 or the 22, it's never worked out well for us. We just kind of try to continue to run our own race.
Q. What do you think you brought from IndyCar over here that helped you the most?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I had to forget all that stuff. The how you drive the car is so much different. The way you work with the people. The way that things are just set up, it's totally different.
The one thing that I've had to really focus on or kind of recovering is the confidence level that enabled me to do a lot of things in IndyCar. I did take pretty easily to that.
I feel like each driver, no matter where you start or end up at, there's one series or one type of car that really just comes easily to you. You look at a guy like Jimmie Johnson that is so successful on the Cup side, but the Nationwide side, he can't just go and dominate like what Kyle Busch does when he comes and runs Nationwide races. Kyle is so good in the Nationwide Series, in the Truck Series. He's great in the Cup Series, too. But to go out there and win championships, to run that way...
Each car that a person drives kind of suits them better than other ones. IndyCars suited me. I had to work a lot harder than I did at that. I knew what I wanted out of a car early on in my career in IndyCars, and I knew what I wanted to get out of it, too, how to work the people that were around me to best maximize it. I had to learn how to do that over here because it's a different way how you come about things.
Q. Coming into this championship battle, Sam is behind, you have the lead, you've been here before, can you talk about that a little bit.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, you know, motivation is always there for me. I want to win every race I'm in, run up front. I think everybody does. If you don't, you don't have the right competitive spirit going into it.
Yeah, I'm happy where I'm at right now. I feel comfortable going into the race. It's one of my favorite tracks to go to. It reminds me of a dirt track because you can change a line so much. It's a fun one. I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Is it different than your other championship contentions?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think I was more nervous going into the truck one just because I had never been in that situation before. Last race, what to expect. I did a lot of things that really kept that one close, making mistakes and stuff.
In this one I feel way more comfortable. I already have a championship ring in NASCAR. Looking for that second one, I'm excited because our guys have done a great job this year. I feel like I've stepped up my driving ability this year from last year. I feel like the Nationwide Series is the most competitive it's been in a long time. For two of us to be sitting here right now, it's pretty impressive to see the guys that have been in the Nationwide Series all year long racing against us. There's a bunch of Cup guys in there, and me and Sam are the two that are left.
Pretty cool we were both consistent enough to put ourselves in this position.
Q. When you look back over this past week, what has it been like coming here? Have you looked to anybody for guidance?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, you know, you try and do your own thing, certain things. But I talked to Jimmie. Jimmie is always good to talk to. Everybody strives to be like him. He's looking for his sixth championship here. Just talk to him about simple things. He obviously handles the situation really well.
I think anytime you can get information from anyone, it's good. I'm going to try to stick to what I do, and that's staying in my own zone.
Q. Is there anything new to report as far as next year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Not at this point in time. We've talked to a lot of people. The good thing is, got a couple options. I'm continuing to work on making the most out of the options that I have and trying to figure out exactly what the best thing is.
I guess at the state that I'm at right now, it's a lot about being thankful for the opportunities that I do have, trying to capitalize on what I've had as far as an opportunity this year, setting myself up the best I can for next year.
Q. Do you expect you'll hear something soon?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know yet, for sure. A lot of it's kind of speculation right now. There's been no paperwork, just a lot of talk.
Q. (No microphone.)
AUSTIN DILLON: I wore one at Texas, just wearing a hat. It wasn't one of these actually. I met the lady that kind of runs the Charlie One Horse stuff. She said she could get me a hat. I was like, Yeah, that would be awesome. Now I get my hats from there.
Just because they're good hats, they've taken care of me anytime I need a hat, a new one, I enjoy wearing them.
Q. (No microphone.)
AUSTIN DILLON: No. It's just I get free hats.
Q. You just wear them?
AUSTIN DILLON: I swear to you.
AUSTIN DILLON: I like to wear them. I grew up wearing them when I was little. We would go to Montana horseback riding. I was always a John Wayne fan, huge cowboy fan. I started wearing them heavily. I don't get paid to wear these hats.
Q. I guess it's just a fashion statement?
AUSTIN DILLON: I guess so, yeah.
Q. People either like it or make fun of it.
AUSTIN DILLON: Always controversy. They're going to make fun of me if I had a zit on my nose or something like that. I can't control that.
I'm comfortable whatever I do, in my own skin, surround myself with the people I want to be around.
Q. Does that mean you'll be comfortable winning a title without winning a race?
AUSTIN DILLON: Sure. Shows how consistent our team is. It's a different way of doing it. Been very consistent. I'd like to go out with a win. I think that would be awesome. But sometimes it just isn't written that way. If God has written for us to win a championship without a win, I'd take it gladly.
Q. (No microphone.)
AUSTIN DILLON: That was really special. That was a huge win for me, going there, with a dirt background. I love racing in anything. That was just something that shows you can get in any kind of car and run well.
Maybe it just shows I could have a dirt background if I ever had to quit racing in NASCAR.
Q. Does winning races last year add validation to the title?
AUSTIN DILLON: The other thing is this year's Chase or this year's battle, you look at the quality of cars and drivers this year, it is twice as good as last year. Last year it was Sam, myself, Elliott and Stenhouse racing every weekend. It came down to three of us at the end of the year.
This year it's Elliott, Brian, Regan, Sam. There's a lot of great competition out there. Kyle Larson, Trevor. There's so many good cars, quality cars, guys that are racing good all year. Allgaier. This year is a tough one.
I was saying it was pretty special that me and Sam came here, we're the only two left that the media chose to win the championship. I don't think if you look back that me and Sam were at the top of the list. You're probably thinking about Brian Vickers, Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith. We knocked them out and now we're here.
Q. Thoughts on how you're going to approach this race with your lead?
AUSTIN DILLON: I have to try to go out there, run up front, win the race. The last four or five weeks, me and Sam trading two points back and forth. We have to go out there and try to win the race, in my opinion. There's no gap there. Eight points is nothing.
I'm going to go out there, do my job. I know I have some leniency here and there. It's not enough to make me back off of a move or something to let that person go.
I was watching last year's race, they were talking to Ricky the whole time, Stay five feet off the wall. There's not going to be any of that going on. If it's written that we win the race, or we win the race without winning the championship, I'm happy either way.
Q. If you're not leading, do you want to know where he's at?
AUSTIN DILLON: He drives a big, bright, yellow car. That's the only thing I have to see. We both have been talking, we just want to go out there and have our race. If we have our race, it will something that everybody will get to enjoy because it's going to be tight.
Q. What would it mean for you to win this championship?
AUSTIN DILLON: It's awesome. Anytime you get a chance to win a championship like this, that's what I was saying, how tough the Nationwide Series was this there. You have guys with so much experience. Media picks a certain guy at the beginning of the year to win it. I don't think me and Sam were the guys that were picked. Now me and Sam are the last two standing here to have a chance to win the championship.
I'm proud of what my team has put together and I'm happy with the position we're in.
Q. Do you have a strategy or are you going about it the same as every other weekend?
AUSTIN DILLON: My strategy is what I've been doing the last six, seven weeks, which is trying to put myself in the top five, see what happens. We've done that consistently. Like to try to do it one more time.
Q. Now you know what's coming, I'll ask you the same question?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I wasn't listening. What did you ask him?
Q. What are your thoughts going into the last race with him eight points ahead?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'd much rather it be the opposite. But we felt like for a long time that this is what it was going to come down to. There were a lot of times throughout the year we felt like we could stretch out the points lead or whatever. Mistakes were made, things we couldn't foresee, from about Watkins Glen on.
It's like I look in my mirror, he's right there. I look in front of me, he's right there. We've ran around each other. There's been maybe two or three races out of this 10, 12, 15 races that we haven't been within two or three spots of each other in the finishing order, which makes it a tall task to go out there and try to take eight points away.
The thing I feel like I've got to my advantage is that if it does come down to a tie, I've got a win. The only way that I can win in the tiebreaker is if he doesn't win. I feel like at least I got that going for me. If he don't have the points lead, you have to look at what the bright side is. I'm super excited to be here. I sat there and I've raced around Austin a lot this year. I feel like we've had good competition. We've raced each other hard, but clean as well.
I'm just happy to be in the position. A lot of things have happened. I'd love to have that ring. I'm going to go out there and work hard to get it.
I know that the public perception is a lot different this year than what it was a couple years ago. That makes the perception of myself a little bit better, too. Sometimes I'm not good about saying, Forget about it, as I should be.
Q. You want to be leading as well. Do you want to know where Austin is running at during the race?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There's a certain point we have to a little bit. More so if he's not living up to the potential that he has over the past couple weeks.
I know he's going to be in the top five if they have the day the 3 car is typical of having. They know how to go out there and run.
The only way we can hurt ourselves is being too aggressive too early in the race. Maybe towards the end of the race I might need to know where he's at because if he's running in fourth and I've led the most laps, I'm behind the 22 car, I'm going to be aggressive to try to win the race and give myself an opportunity to win the championship.
Focusing on the 12 car is about the biggest thing we can do at this point in time.
Q. What would it mean if you were able to get the ring?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, when I won my first three championship rings, it was really early in my career. You always feel like there's a lot more to come at that point in time. Even if the uncertainty of not knowing what's going to happen next year for sure, as far as having this opportunity, maybe that's put a little bit more pressure on me than I would have liked to have had.
It's going to rank up there. Winning the Indianapolis 500 at this point will be the pinnacle of my career. Winning the Daytona 500 or winning at the Brickyard would all be in really close with all that.
I'm glad to be here. It would mean a lot to me. I've had a lot of fun participating and doing the things that I've been able to do this year. I've been up front a lot. I can't remember how many second‑place finishes we've got. The 52 and 24 have shut us down a lot this year. C'mon, get a couple more wins.
Q. What would it mean in order to continue in NASCAR?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Continuing in NASCAR, the only plan I have at this point is I know around early February I'm going to be going to the hospital with my wife. We're getting ready to have our third kid. That's the one thing I know at this point in time.
Outside of that, I believe a lot of it will take care of itself. I told my wife the other day, because she obviously worries, she knows how much racing means to me, what it does. I'm like, Next year is going to be great regardless of what happens. My number one priority is to you and the kids. Outside of that, I'll try to do the things I want to do, but I have to make sure those are taken care of first of all.
Q. Because it's so close, eight points, what is the one race you'd like to have back?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: There's a couple here and there. There's not really one. I look at the issues. There's been driver mistakes. There's been calls that weren't what we wanted. We had the bearings come out of the oil pump at Michigan. There's been a multitude of things.
I think that exactly shows why this is a team sport. Any one of us, if we would have done or job better on one day, probably could have led us coming into this race 20 points ahead instead of eight behind. But we have to rely on each other, do the best we can.
I think that's part of racing. That shows how much of a team sport this is. That's been part of my growing process over here, was being able to realize how much I need to lean on the people around me, to have the right people there.
Q. Because it is so close, what is the one race you would like to have back, Austin?
AUSTIN DILLON: You think about all those things. Like Sam says, there's little mistakes over the course of a year you'd like to have back. Sometimes it's hard, you get frustrated, you do things you know you shouldn't do.
Richmond was close. That was one I'd like to have back. There's races here and there, everywhere. Daytona at the beginning of the year we were wrecked with seven to go. I never thought I would get wrecked there because I was in a good spot. Got wrecked, finished 30th. You wish you could have certain things back. But you can't.
We both put ourselves in the best position we can. We've had less bad days than they've had. Hopefully we can finish it off strong.
Q. Matt has been getting a lot of heat for running Nationwide when he's in the thick of a Cup championship. You're in the closest points battle we have. Here you come out running the truck race Friday night. Why isn't it a big deal to you?
AUSTIN DILLON: To me it's just more laps in the same horsepower car. I'm comfortable in the truck. I won the championship there. I get to stay away from less media questions because I'll be in the racecar (laughter).
I think just having more laps, man. I mean, I enjoy it. I won one race this year, that was at Eldora. If I could win the truck race, that would be big, boost your confidence. I get to have more extended practice times so I can practice more things that I want to try.
I don't see it as a bad thing at all.
Q. Is there a time where you could be doing too much?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, you can do too much as far as spreading yourself thin because everybody is asking certain things from you, as far as sponsor obligations, media obligations, traveling and meeting people you want to meet, just being pulled different ways. You have to really schedule yourself so you don't wear yourself down. I think you break yourself down over a long period of time. 36 races is a lot. If you do that to yourself, you're overbooking yourself.
I do it all the time. I don't mean to. You have to have great people around you to tell you to slow down and tell you you need to take a week.
Q. (No microphone.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. Saturday, kind of all bets are off. It's a different race for us to go out there and run on that day. We both have probably a little bit different game plan as far as how we need to run that race. If it was even right now going into it, we would probably both kind of be in the same boat or same game plan.
For me, it took me a while to be able to come to grips with the fact I might never be certain about my future again. When I first came over, I didn't know if I had the job for one year, 30 days, what it was going to be. I forced myself to probably do things that I didn't need to do.
I always liken that to swimming. When you're in the water, you can't teach yourself how to be any better. Most of the time you're trying to keep your head above the water. It took me being able to get out of the car. In 2011 I studied a lot of things I didn't have time to when I was running a full Cup schedule. If I would have spent 2007 100% focused on the Nationwide Series instead of running back and forth between the IndyCars, because nothing really that good came out of it. It was a lackluster year for what I was used in the IndyCar Series. I didn't have time to focus on making myself better over the long run.
I believe having to do things over, I would have done it differently and learned the lessons a little bit earlier and I would have had people around me that felt like they could talk to me and tell me how to make myself better. I almost needed to be dragged down to the lowest level before certain people would tell me anything, including the team guys. If certain times people would have spoken up earlier, it would have made us all better, and we might all be in a better position than we are right now. You only have one time to do it, so...
Q. Over the course of the season, carrying a car that's not running well, not wrecking it, is that important to winning a championship?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Even over the course of a race. It's not just the season. You sit there, you can push things, try to get more out of it than what it's got. There have been a couple times this year where I've been able to make that work for me, more times than not.
But you have to know when to do it and how much of it you can do. It's about taking chances, but also being able to put up the right risk versus reward numbers, knowing how far you can push things, when you need to back it off and be smart.
Q. Austin, the fine line about carrying a car that's not working and wrecking it.
AUSTIN DILLON: Like Sam says, it's risk versus reward. What are you gaining by almost wrecking the guy in front of you or pissing him off in a later race where he can get you back? What does that one spot, if you're in that situation, eighth, ninth, what is it gaining you? Every point matters at this point.
But it might have given me 10 points at a race later on this year in a situation.
As far as carrying the car, you can try all you want. Sometimes you can make it better by changing a line, doing certain things. Obviously you can't wreck cars to gain anything. You just got to be on that comfortable edge.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|