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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Sam Hornish, Jr.
January 28, 2008

THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming in, Dale.
We have Sam Hornish, Jr. with us. Sam, just kind of talk about how it's gone so far.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Just like everywhere else we go for the first time, it's a big learning process. I ran a couple laps here last year in a Busch car, but didn't get a chance to race here. It's a little bit about learning the track and where the bumps are.
The wind this morning didn't make anything particularly easy. But just trying to get as much knowledge as we can in the short amount of time that we have.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Sam.

Q. Talk about what you saw in the Rolex. What an interesting race.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I didn't get to see as enough, or as much as I would have liked you. The step I'm making this year put me out of contention for being able to go down out there and run with those guys. The way that Helio and Ryan, and Kurt ran, they did real well. I think there's some things that the team learned over the course of that 24-hour race with the way the radiators got packed up and the car overheated that will be things they'll take into account for next year.
If there's one thing about Penske Racing, the mistakes they made in the past they learn from and they move on from that. They're better the next time that they come, because they're always looking for that next thing that they're going to need to be able to give them an opportunity to win.

Q. (Question regarding the double whammy of new car, new series.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I feel actually, you know, really confident about that because of the fact that most of the racetracks we go to, you're going to run against guys like Jeff Gordon and Dale, Mark Martin, that have 20 plus races at each of those tracks in that type of car.
When they come to these tracks for the first time in this car, it's something they have a little bit less experience with. So it feels like, to me, sometimes it puts us more on an even playing field. I still feel like there's so much we have to learn. I definitely feel this was a good year to be able to come in and do it, because there are other people learning the new car, there's a lot of things that people are going to be confronted with for the first time because of this car.

Q. What do you think you'll miss from the IndyCars?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think probably the biggest thing is being in Indianapolis for the month of May. That was the thing that sparked my interest in racing, was the Indianapolis 500. Kind of once I got to that point where I was interested in that enough, you know, my mind started to wander and started watching other types of racing.
But that was the thing that really got me involved in it. My original goal in racing was to someday go to Indianapolis and qualify for the race. I never had any kind of dream about winning it or winning IndyCar championships or even getting to this point, trying my hand out at a completely different series.
I think that will be something that I miss. Plus having a little bit shorter schedule that I was afforded with in 2006. That last year, with the Busch races that we ran and the Cup races at the end of the year and running the full IndyCar schedule, we ran about 39 weekends last year.
I got a pretty good idea of what this schedule was going to be like, being gone as much as we were. I think definitely the biggest thing is, back to Indianapolis, being there. I've already got some appearances that I'm going to be doing during the month of May at Indianapolis. I'll get to at least go to the track a couple times, see how everything is going.

Q. No way you'll race the Indy 500?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: If it was up to me, I would. It really depends how things are going over here. I think Roger and I have talked about it a couple of times. There's obviously nothing set.
I think if we're to a point where we feel confident with how we're doing over here, it's not going to hurt us, that we would try it. But I would say it's still way more not going to happen than could happen. So we'll just see how the first couple months of this season play out. Hopefully, if I don't get to race there this year, maybe next year.

Q. Have you moved away from Ohio?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I have two houses now. I have one in Ohio and one in the Moorseville area. The big reason, all my family, all my wife's family, all our friends growing up, are still in Ohio. It makes it pretty tough, having a wife that's right now less than two weeks away being due for our first baby. It wouldn't be fair for me having her sitting home alone all week by herself. So she's going to spend some time there while I'm off doing what I'm doing, and she still has the support group of our families there to help her out.
The big thing for us is that we get through the first couple months of not only this part of our life but also being parents and kind of move on from there. We've really enjoyed the Charlotte area. We look forward to spending the part of racing season when we're gone the most down there on the weeks in between, and then in the winter when we have all the holiday stuff, to be able to go home and have a place there, as well.

Q. (Question regarding motivation and moving to NASCAR.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that I got to a point in my career where I decided this was the next challenge. I felt that there were still things I could do in Indy car. I accomplished more than I ever thought I was going to. It seemed like this was the time to do it.
We had the opportunity to come and run Busch races and Cup races and had a good idea of how difficult it was actually going to be. I liked the challenge. I liked how much I felt I was learning each time I got in the car and went to the track.
I felt that I was at the right age where I could do it, where I didn't feel like I'm too old or I'm too young in either direction where I didn't feel like I was going to be able to absorb as much as I needed to to be able to do it.
You know, it was a tough decision to make because there were so many things that could keep me over there. Having the Indianapolis 500, a shorter schedule, all those other things, a little bit more free time to myself.
But this, you know, with having the opportunity to run the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400, there's so many things that are new challenges and big races that you can win. Just the point of getting to come over here and see if we can't get to the point where we're successful and winning races, stuff like that. That's really the big reason why I wanted to do it.
I came over, I saw how difficult it was. I felt that if I can get to the point where we're successful and we win, it would feel -- it would give me that same kind of feeling that I had when I first came on the IndyCar scene, where it was something I wasn't sure about, wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do it successful at it. Worked hard and was able to accomplish that.
All the race wins, championships, that stuff's all good. But to have that feeling of accomplishment, you know, that we were able to come and do this and be successful is the best part.

Q. Sam, you've been so focused on qualifying to this point in your NASCAR career. How refreshing was it to be in race setup today and have a chance to work on that at the track?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, a lot of people asked me what I got for Christmas, what the best present was. Obviously I'm going to have to say getting the points from Kurt was probably the best present I got. It's a total load off your shoulders to be able to say we go in these first five races of the year and we're in.
Especially when you go to Daytona, you have not only qualifying, but you have the duels. So many things can take you out: a flat tire, running out of fuel, engine problem, getting caught in somebody else's wreck. To have that feeling, satisfaction, of knowing we can go out there, we can work on race setup, we can try to make ourselves really run good in the race to where we can get some good points, keep ourselves from being outside of that top 35 all year instead of having to come in each time and feeling like, okay, we go to a track, you got an hour practice session, you're probably going to get 20 laps.
It's the first time you've been there, try to go out there, qualify, see if you can make the show. We came close a few times last year being able to make it. We did make it at a couple other ones.
I felt the biggest sense of accomplishment this year is to be able to go in and to not ever have to feel like, okay, we had that as an insurance policy that we were in, but we made it anyhow. We would have been able to do it. We would have been able to make the races anyhow.
I feel that coming out here today and saying, you know what, we can spend all day working on the race setup and trying to make the car better over long runs is a lot more relaxing. You feel like you learn a lot more than if you had to go out here just every day straight-up qualifying, and how do we get the exact most speed out of the car for two laps.

Q. Can you talk about the weight of trying to qualify. Also can you talk about your comfort level now compared to last year.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's something that, you know, I didn't like at all. We went to Loudon, the first race. We went out and we practiced real well. I remember walking out on the grid. Everybody was just, Don't overdrive it. Whatever you do, don't overdrive it. I went down into turn three on both laps. Getting right into the corner, I didn't overdrive it, I didn't come close to driving it hard enough. I just felt I really let myself down. We missed that race by one position, making it in.
I went home and I said, I know what I did wrong. I know what the problem was. When we go next week, I'm not going -- I'm going to tune out what everybody else has to tell me right before I go out and qualify. Only I know what the car needs to be like and how far it needs to be driven. Obviously sometimes I'm going to miss it. But I can't let everybody else weigh in so heavily on what I feel about it.
We went to Dover. We missed that race. That was a place that I'd never been anywhere like. Dover isn't like anywhere else we go.
Each thing, while it was difficult, it made me that much more hungry to come back and try it again the next week, see if we can't get to the point where we're making the races steadily.
I think that once we got to Phoenix, having that opportunity -- I'd been there, not only to that racetrack before, but also been there in a stock car, ran the Busch race. Just having that opportunity to feel like you know what, I know the track already.
Lo and behold, we go and make it into the last two races of the year, the places we'd already been to before. I felt pretty good about that. That's what makes me as excited as I am to go out and go to all these new tracks. I know they're difficult to go to for the first round. But after you get that first round out of your way, you have a lot better idea of what to expect when you go back.

Q. You talk about growing up, Indianapolis 500 was all that you thought about. You accomplished that. Going into the Daytona 500, what are your impressions and what does it mean to you to be racing in it?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It means a lot to me to be racing in it. That was the reason why I started wanting to pursue this side of my career, of running stock cars, was to run the Daytona 500.
You know, like I said, what attracted me originally to racing was the Indianapolis 500. I remember from the time I was probably 12, 13 years old, I mean, I watched every kind of racing. It wasn't just one thing or the other. But the Daytona 500 obviously meant a lot to me. It means a lot to me, the fact that only two other drivers have ever won the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. To be able to put your name next to Foyt and Andretti would be a pretty neat experience.
Then again, nobody's won the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. There are a lot of things that are exciting about this for me. I think the Daytona 500 is a great race. I think it's something that you don't see anywhere else. For as exciting as that race can be, also to have it be the first race of the year, first race of the season, it's like going and playing the Super Bowl first, then going and figuring out what you're going to do for the rest of the year. It's pretty tough.
That's another reason why the points thing is thrilling for us, to get that switched over. You don't want to have to sit there and watch the biggest race of the year. What do we tell the sponsors? What do we tell the fans? How do we recover from having that disappointment, of not making the biggest race of the year?

Q. You talk about your wife being due in a few weeks, the week before the 500. What happens that week if she goes in the hospital? What do you do?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, she's actually due on qualifying day for the 500, on the 10th. I told her, As long as it's not qualifying, the duels, or the race, I'll do everything I can to be there.
I don't know. She told me when we first found out we were pregnant all the way up until about two weeks ago, I really need you to be there. I really want you to be there. All these things. I think she's gotten uncomfortable enough she's like, You know what? I want you to be there, but it really doesn't matter anymore. I just want to be able to have the baby and be done. I know she's not going to try to wait on me at all.
It's something that there's a lot of new things happening for us. I haven't talked to Roger or Tim Cindric, those guys too much about what's going to happen. Hopefully they don't come on the radio about halfway through the 500 and tell me I have a kid. That would be a little bit difficult to keep my mind focused, but I'm looking forward to it.

SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.

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