CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Sam Hornish Jr. is finally back in the Sprint Cup Series after a four-year absence, in a ride Richard Petty Motorsports insists it is committed to fielding for the entire year.
RPM has 26 unsponsored races as it heads into next month’s season-opener. Twisted Tea will sponsor the Daytona 500 and the July race at Daytona International Raceway, and team co-owner Andrew Murstein is willing to provide some funding through his Medallion Bank.
Hornish replaced Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Ford, and is teammates with Aric Almirola, who made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last season.
RPM director of operations Sammy Johns said he’s moving forward as if the organization will have two full-time cars all season, despite the lack of sponsorship for Hornish. RPM said Almirola’s car is fully funded.
“If we do our job, the rest of it will take care of itself,” he said. “Richard and Andy have not told me to check up, and I’m not checking up. We’ve added new employees, we’ve made huge investments in equipment, we are moving forward.”
RPM recently hired 35 employees and moved into its former shop in Mooresville, north of Charlotte.
Hornish, a three-time IndyCar champion and the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, has not had the same success since Roger Penske brought him to NASCAR following the 2007 IndyCar season. He struggled through three disappointing Cup seasons with Penske, but was out of a full-time job in 2011.
He was brought back as a fill-in driver at Penske following AJ Allmendinger’s 2012 suspension, ran two full seasons in the Xfinity Series, but ran just nine races last year.
Hornish’s goal was always to return to the Cup Series, and he got his chance when Ambrose returned to his native Australia to run V8 Supercars for Penske. He said he’s not concerned about the sponsorship situation.
“There’s no concern on my mind on whether or not they’re going to go out and do what they said they were going to do this year,” Hornish said. “Hopefully, they’re bringing me in for the performance, competition side of it, but I’m also doing everything that I can help them do on the sponsorship side.”
Team co-owner Richard Petty believes Hornish is ready to make a mark in NASCAR after his failed run with Penske.
“When he came in from IndyCar, they just put him in the Cup racing and it was just overwhelming for him and the crew to figure out what was going on,” Petty said. “Talking to the Penske people, they thought they raced him into a little too quick. Going back and watching him, how he’s matured, he’s settled down and he’s old enough that he knows what he wants and what he can do, and that’s going to be a big plus for us.”