- Brant James, Contributor, espnW.com
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Make no mistake, Sam Hornish Jr. would very much like to win the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).
There's that whole home track thing -- Hornish is from Defiance, 125 miles away -- and, at three points off the series point lead, any win is a welcome one.
It's just that the three-time IndyCar Series champion won't have as much time to savor just his second race on the 2.258-mile circuit as many -- including friends and family -- expect, what with a full test day there on Thursday, sponsor commitments, preening two of his personal cars for a charitable calendar photo shoot, and driving his mother and grandmother back to his new home in suburban Charlotte on Sunday morning as his oldest daughter begins school.
"Don't get me wrong, it's been circled for a while and I'm glad we're going there for a lot of reasons," Hornish said in a phone interview. "With all we have going on this week with the test, there's not a lot of free time. It's just time to get stuff done. I scheduled a lot of stuff around it so I could accommodate.
"It's kind of like going home, but it's a lot of work. No matter how the race goes, I'll be on to the next thing in the morning."
Dillon, who was the 2011 Truck series champion and has a relationship with the same sponsor as Stewart, will have to contend with travel between Mid-Ohio and the Sprint Cup race in Michigan, making for a potentially distracting weekend.
Hornish would seem to be all for the points leader dividing his focus, but he said he doesn't necessarily believe the bid will damage Dillon's run for a Nationwide title if he remains as Stewart's understudy.
"I don't know it helps him win the title in any way, but I don't know it's a detriment, either," Hornish said. "I think there are weekends this is really going to help him out. We go to Bristol next weekend and he gets twice as much track time, or Atlanta, more track time.
"There's a certain amount of doing this that is going to help out. The big thing is the confidence factor. As long as he can do it and feel like it's a benefit in improving his future, I think it's a great thing for him."
Dillon called winning the championship "our main goal," predicting "We're going to win the Nationwide Series."
Dillon is likely to miss Nationwide qualifying Saturday because of conflicts with Cup practice in Michigan, forcing him to start from the back of the field at Mid-Ohio. Still, Hornish said, that might not devastate the other driver's chances of a reasonable finish even though Dillon admitted that "road courses have been not our strong suit."
"I don't think starting from the back there is going to be a killer," Hornish said. "Those races are so volatile as far as what can happen. I think that, last week in Watkins Glen, he set his goal to get in the top 10. I feel they look at this weekend as one of those races where they may not feel they're capable of winning, so their goal is to get top-10s out of it. From my standpoint, looking at their point of view, is another two hours of practice going to make the difference between being 10th or being first? Probably not."
Track president Craig Rust is simply glad Mid-Ohio is in the equation, as the combined ambition of series sponsor Nationwide, which is based about an hour away in Columbus, and promoters Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who purchased the track in 2011, congealed into the first top-three-series NASCAR event at the facility.
Montreal falling off the Nationwide schedule provided the opening, and the way the event has been embraced by local businesses and citizens -- Columbus resident and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal attempted unsuccessfully to land a ride for the event -- has created a spectacle with a home-pride feel.
"Montreal coming off the schedule was certainly advantageous for Mid-Ohio," Rust said. "If they don't come off the schedule, I don't necessarily think another road course gets added. Nationwide Insurance, before the new ownership and before myself, made it clear to NASCAR they would like to see an event at Mid-Ohio at some point if it made sense.
"And, when Kim and Kevin purchased the track from the Truman family and brought me on board, we very quickly discussed the possibility of approaching NASCAR and at least letting them know we were interested in hosting a NASCAR event, whether it was a Truck race or a Nationwide event."
And so Hornish got his sort-of homecoming. Not that he'll have much time to reminisce.
"Friends and family and stuff, I have a lot of people that want me to go do this and that and the other," he said with a laugh. "I don't know. I have so much stuff to do I feel bad for them more than anything."
46mK. Lee Davis