Sitting second in the Nationwide Series standings eight points behind leader Austin Dillon with one race to go, Sam Hornish Jr. should be focused solely on winning his first NASCAR championship.
Hornish, instead, finds himself in the awkward position of wondering if he'll have a ride for next season. Due to a lack of sponsorship Penske Racing is contracting from two Nationwide teams to one, and there is no funding to move Hornish to Sprint Cup.
"This is something that unfortunately I don't have any control over really," Hornish said Thursday. "It's a lot about talking to people, trying to figure out what it's going to end up being. I try not to take that into the racecar at all with me. I try to focus on the task at hand, put all that out of my mind. It's not going to help me do anything to win a championship."
That Hornish finds himself in title contention is something not many would have thought after an initial turbulent transition from IndyCar to NASCAR.
After eight seasons in open-wheel competition, which included three championships and a 2006 Indianapolis 500 victory, the 34-year-old driver moved full-time to Sprint Cup in 2008. Initially the shift was a struggle for Hornish, who finished 35th, 28th and 29th in points in his three full seasons in NASCAR's top division and amassed 13 DNF's due to crashes.
He dropped down to Nationwide to run a partial schedule in 2011 and a full slate of races the following season. And it was then Hornish learned the nuances of stock-car racing. A year ago he finished fourth in points, and this season has a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was atop the standings 15 of 32 weeks.
"I definitely feel I belong in the Cup Series," Hornish said. "A lot of even taking the step back was to prove what I've known for a long time: given the equipment, the right people around me, what I would be capable of.
"I think, given a couple years ago, I would have taken what we had last weekend, probably would have ended up 15th or wrecked. By the things I've learned, forced myself to do, by saying I can't pick it up and carry it, I can try to get the best finish out of it that certain day, I ended up fifth and we ended up in position to be able to run for the championship."
All of which makes his current predicament frustrating. Hornish's goal is to land a competitive ride for next season in Cup or Nationwide, and is open to running part-time if the situation is right.
But feeling he has achieved everything he can in IndyCar, what Hornish is not open to is returning to his open-wheel roots. Chip Ganassi expressed interest in signing Hornish to replace Dario Franchitti, who unexpectedly retired Thursday due to injuries sustained in a crash last month. Hornish declined, telling the Associated Press IndyCar is "just not on my career path."
Which means as of now, Hornish is both a free agent and championship contender.
"There's a lot of uncertainty at this point in time," he said. "I feel we'll be able to make something happen. It's all about trying to position me to move forward in some way. I don't want to take any more steps backwards."