Sports briefs: Hornish bolts for NASCAR

Despite not qualifying for a Nextel Cup race six times this season, three-time IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr. has decided to fully commit to NASCAR. Hornish will join Penske Racing and drive the No. 77 Dodge next season. “I’ve tried to qualify for these Cup races, and it’s kind of lit a little bit of fire in me to see if we can’t get to the point where I am competitive,” Hornish said.

Recent struggles won’t get 49ers’ Smith down

Quarterback Alex Smith got a free pass for all his rookie mistakes in the 2005 season. Last season, he played well enough to give 49ers fans reason to look forward to this year. But with a sputtering offense, an injured throwing shoulder and a 2-6 record, the former No. 1 overall pick has just one thing on his mind: Rising above it. “You can’t get too far down,” he said. “There’s got to be some light at the end. People can look at the stat line, and obviously the QB rating hurts, but I’m not going to stop trying to get better every week.” The Niners placed guard Justin Smiley (shoulder) on injured reserved and signed Patrick Estes to take Smiley’s spot.

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