Is Sam Hornish Jr. a Legitimate Contender for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship?

By Joseph Wolkin
Josh Holmberg-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Hornish Jr. locked up his second career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory Saturday afternoon. Hornish was given the opportunity to return to Penske Racing this year, and is now able to work with a proven winner in Greg Erwin as his crew chief. The win proved that Hornish is for real this season, but can he actually win the championship?

Hornish had terrible luck during the first two races of the season, but was able to rebound thanks to hard work by his crew. At Daytona, he fell outside of the pack and lost the draft by lap 60. After a few cautions and wrecks, Hornish was able to end up the day in second, giving him the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead for the first time in his career.

Phoenix was probably ten times worse for Hornish and his Penske Racing Ford Mustang crew. He was involved in an accident early on and sustained severe damage to the front end of his race car. Later on in the race, he spun out again. However, his crew worked diligently to prove that they can handle the pressure, and Hornish was able to finish the day inside of the top-10.

During the Sam’s Town 300, it was the opposite scenario. Led by Erwin, Hornish’s car settled in rather quickly as he started to dominate the race. It could be a sign of what’s to come for Hornish as he out-dueled Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers when the day was over. Hornish’s win proved plenty about how his year will go.

Hornish showed that he can dominate on a mile and a half track, which is the majority of the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule. He put his name in the same category as former NASCAR Nationwide Series champions Jeff Green and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the only non-Sprint Cup Series regulars to win at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The move to Ford could likely be an additional reason for Hornish’s success. The team never had the horsepower on the straightaways that the needed last year to be competitive, but seems to be different this year. Hornish seems to be legit this year. Unlike last year, Hornish doesn’t have to take the time to adjust to the cars as he’s used to the way they drive and he now knows the tracks inside and out.

There’s one problem: it’s just one win. If he can win a few more races on different types of tracks, then he can have a true shot at winning the championship.

Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.

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