FONTANA, Calif. â€“ Sam Hornish Jr. says he hasnâ€™t had any conversations with Penske Racing officials regarding a possible move from the teamâ€™s No. 77 Dodge to the No. 12 for 2009, or a possible points swap between the two.
â€śAll I know about it is that no decision has been made,â€ť Hornish said Friday while at Auto Club Speedway. â€śI just know they need a driver for the 12 car.â€ť
Teammate Ryan Newmanâ€™s impending departure â€“ heâ€™ll leave at seasonâ€™s end to join Stewart-Haas Racing for 2009 â€“ means the Penske organization has one driver opening to fill. Putting Hornish in the 12 would likely placate primary sponsor Alltel and would guarantee the driver a spot in the field through a minimum of next seasonâ€™s first five races (when final owner points
from 2008 are used).
Hornish, in his first full season of competition in NASCARâ€™s Sprint Cup Series, is 35th in owner points heading into Sundayâ€™s race at the Fontana track, just inside the cutoff for a guaranteed starting spot. Newmanâ€™s team is currently 16th in owner points.
David Stremme, who has handled much of the Penske groupâ€™s testing efforts this year, is expected to be named as Newmanâ€™s replacement, joining Hornish and 2004 champion Kurt Busch.
â€śI really donâ€™t ask the question [about the No. 12] too much,â€ť Hornish said, â€śbecause Iâ€™ve had so much going on around my own [deal]. There hasnâ€™t really been any discussion around the shop, even from just talking to the guys on the team, Iâ€™m not really hearing a lot.
â€śWeâ€™ve had a ton going on trying to get our program straightened out, so weâ€™re not worried a whole lot about that right now.â€ť
Crew chief Travis Geisler replaced Chris Carrier Aug. 19 in an effort to improve the No. 77 teamâ€™s on-track performance.
â€śI really enjoyed working with Chris and all the things that we had been able to go through and do this year and getting to know him,â€ť Hornish said, â€śbut the team felt it was time for a change.â€ť
The timing, however, he said, could have been better.
â€śIt was a tough week to do it because you have a short week because you go from running on Sunday [at Michigan] to running on Saturday night [at Bristol], plus a couple months ago I had asked if I could run the Nationwide race there at Bristol,â€ť he said. â€śSo we didnâ€™t have time for all the debriefing and all the things that weâ€™re going to have this weekend. ... We didnâ€™t even have time to go do a test together. ...
â€śNow we go to a place [Auto Club Speedway] that we feel like weâ€™re competitive at and can run in the top-15 if we do the things right and probably be better than that. Hopefully, weâ€™ll be able to put all those things together. This is the weekend weâ€™re really going to find out how it works.â€ť - scenedaily.com
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