NASCAR has approved Penske Racing's request to transfer the owner points from Kurt Busch to Sam Hornish Jr., a move that locks the three-time IndyCar Series champion into the first five races of next season.
Hornish publicly thanked Busch for giving him the points at the Penske holiday party on Friday night. Bud Denker, senior vice president of Penske Corp., confirmed Saturday that the team would swap the points with NASCAR's approval.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said the sanctioning body had signed off on the transfer.
"This would obviously help Sam as he prepares to run the first five races instead of prepares to qualify for the first five races," Denker said. "With a champion like Kurt Busch and the opportunity to utilize (the points), anyone would be foolish to not take care of the situation."
Hornish, a former Indianapolis 500 winner, is leaving that series for NASCAR next season. But his No. 77 Dodge won't be one of the 35 cars locked into the first five races of the year. As the 2004 series champion, Busch has a provisional position that he could fall back on should he fail to qualify on speed.
Penske said last month that he had not decided if he would give Hornish the points Busch earned because the focus was not on the first month of the season.
"This isn't all about the first five races," Penske said at Phoenix International Raceway. "This is about a long career for a great race car driver and someone who has delivered for us for a long time at Penske Racing."
But not taking the points put Hornish at risk of not making early races, and a failure to qualify could cripple his first full Sprint Cup season. Of the five new teams that started last season outside of the top 35, all missed early races, fell into a deep hole and never recovered.
This swap will prevent that for Hornish, who failed to make the first six races he attempted to qualify for last season. He finally made it into the field at Phoenix and Homestead, Fla., and finished 30 and 37th in his only two starts.
Locking him into the field will give Hornish an edge on former open-wheel drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier, who will not be in cars guaranteed a starting spot. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, however, will enter the series locked into the top 35.