When Richard Petty Motorsports announced that following this season, Marcos Ambrose would no longer be with the team and would head back home to Australia, one car was left open in their stable. The desire to still field two cars in Sprint Cup competition was still there for the team, even though Stanley and DeWalt Tools later announced they were moving to Joe Gibbs Racing to help sponsor Matt Kenseth and their new hire, Carl Edwards.
So where was a team to turn to keep the two-car stable competing?
That was all settled today when Sam Hornish Jr. and RPM announced they have partnered together to run the No. 9 Ford next season, marking Hornish’s return to full-time Sprint Cup competition.
“This is a great opportunity to join Richard Petty Motorsports and the No. 9 Ford team in the Sprint Cup Series,” Hornish said. “Owners Richard Petty, Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron have built this organization into a championship-contending team with world-class sponsors and partners.
“Many people have noticed the progress being made here and I’m ready to build off this momentum.”
Last season, Hornish finished runner-up in the Nationwide Series for Penske Racing, he elected to not run NASCAR full-time this season, even though he was given many offers. At the end of 2013, he was notified that he would not be retained by Penske, and instead of taking a grab at the first ride that was available, he elected to wait till a competitive opportunity presented itself.
Hornish signed a deal to run a few Nationwide races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season at the wheel of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota. He would win the pole at Talladega and the Mid-Ohio Motorsports Park, plus took the victory at the Iowa Speedway.
He still ran one Sprint Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway this season, but was in an impromptu fill-in role, as he was driving the No. 11 Toyota for Denny Hamlin after Hamlin experienced flu-like symptoms the morning of the race, and then blurred vision.
His most well-known role in Sprint Cup, aside from his earlier run with Penske Racing from 2008-2010, came in 2012 when he drove the No. 22 for Penske beginning in July at Daytona, following the suspension of A.J. Allmendinger following a failed random substance screening. He would run well in the car, but it was Joey Logano who got the role of taking over that car full-time.
“I feel like I’m a lot better prepared. I feel like I’m more ready to go full-time than with my first go-around with only about 12-15 stock car races under my belt,” Hornish said, adding that he felt much more comfortable with the cars this go-round and able to offer and receive technical communication better.
“This is a different opportunity for sure than the one I had previously.”
Team owner Richard Petty echoed the sentiments of Hornish at the announcement, stating “He’s a family man who fits well with our core values and he will be a great ambassador for our partners.
“Sam’s also proven that he can win races and compete for a championship. He came into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a steep learning curve from open wheel racing, but has shown in the Nationwide Series that he is a winner. We feel that he can get the No. 9 team to Victory Lane and compete in ‘The Chase’ for us.”
Currently, there is no announcement for sponsorship of the No. 9 Ford for 2015.