Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
Sam Hornish Jr. left the Indy Car Series after the 2007 season to pursue a career in NASCAR. Since making that decision, the three-time IndyCar Champion has seen more than his fair share of low-lights to this point in his NASCAR venture, but over the last couple of years he has become a steady fixture in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Heading into the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona, Hornish was one of more than two handfuls of drivers that many believed would contend for the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, but Hornish hadn’t ever assumed the top spot in the championship standings. The closest he ever came was a second-place ranking after the Montreal race last season.
As the race played out, one-by-one the probable championship contenders for the 2013 Nationwide Series championship began to fall by the wayside in the season’s opening race.
Trevor Bayne — who sat on the pole — was relegated to a 31st-place finish after mechanical issues. Austin Dillon took a hard lick in a huge accident with a handful of laps remaining, he would end up 21st. And Brian Vickers would find himself a couple laps off the pace in 19th.
Heading into the final laps Hornish was in the thick of the battle, but so were other big-name contenders such as Elliott Sadler, Kyle Larson and Regan Smith — who held the lead through the final turn.
Then all hell broke loose.
Smith would get turned while trying to block Brad Keselowski for the win. When the smoke settled, the infield of the Daytona International Speedway had been turned into a junkyard, and Kyle Larson had taken one of the scariest rides in the history of the sport.
Lost in the chaos though was Hornish, who followed Tony Stewart to the finish line in second. Because Stewart is ineligible to receive points in the Nationwide Series, Hornish assumes the points lead for the first time in his career heading into a place where he’s had success before — Phoenix.
Hornish’s lone victory in his NASCAR career came at Phoenix during the final stretch of the 2011 Nationwide Series season. Since that day Hornish has been shaking off his old moniker “Sideways Sam” one race at a time. He has honestly turned into a very formidable stock car driver, who very honestly deserves to be at the top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series — even if only for one week.