By admin | April 5, 2010
By Richard Allen
Paul Menard and Sam Hornish, Jr. have been the subject of some degree of ridicule throughout their brief NASCAR Sprint Cup careers. However, the 2010 season is proving to be somewhat of a breakout year for both.
These two drivers have made it to NASCARâ€™s highest level by traveling very different roads. Both have often been accused by fans and even other competitors of not earning their way to their current station.
Menard had both the good and bad fortune of being born into wealth. His family operates a chain of home improvement stores centered mostly throughout the Midwest. This has worked to his benefit in the obvious way of providing him with the much needed capital to participate in the very expensive sport of racing. But at the same time, he will always have to fight off the â€˜His daddy bought his rideâ€™ criticism.
This year the driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports #98 Ford has had the look of a driver who earned his way to the top of the sport. He has run inside the top-10 on numerous occasions so far in 2010. His worst finishes have been a pair of 18ths. Consider that last year he placed outside the top-25 a total of twenty-two times and the signs of improvement are clear.
In 2010 Menard has scored one top-5 in Atlanta. Prior to this season he had finished in the top-5 only one other time in his whole Sprint Cup career. He is currently 11th in the overall standings. Last year he finished 31st in the final rundown.
Sam Hornish, Jr. has often had similar criticisms heaped upon him during his time in NASCAR. These have not necessarily been because of coming from a wealthy background but because of coming from an entirely different form of racing. His credentials are impressive in that he is a former winner of the Indianapolis 500. But with as many other drivers from the open wheel ranks as have tried and failed in NASCAR, the tendency among the sportâ€™s observers is to lump all IndyCar crossovers in the same group.
In 2009, Hornish did little to silence his critics when he posted a 28th place finish in the final Sprint Cup standings. He did score two top-5s and seven top-10s but those finishes were scattered among twenty runs outside the top-25.
While Hornish has shown this season that he has the capability to run inside the top-10 on a regular basis, he has been unable to carry those runs to the finish line. In both Atlanta and Bristol he looked to be on his way to certain top-10s when in both cases mechanical woes hurt his final standing. He did post a solid 13th in Martinsville.
Hornish has run a total of 288 laps inside the top 15 already this year but that number would certainly be much higher if not for the failings of tires and machine.
While it has not always been so, Paul Menard and Sam Hornish, Jr. have looked very much like they belong in the ranks of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2010.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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