GETTING INTO DODGE Penske finds success as lone Dodge camp
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
When Dodge started the 2010 NASCAR season with just one team owner, Roger Penske, in the camp, many in the sport figured that the prospects for success were small.
After all, the conventional wisdom is the more the merrier. The thinking is that with more teams and drivers, there’s more technical information that can be gained and shared.
In the Chevrolet camp, Hendrick Motorsports provides engines and chassis for its own four teams as well as the two at Stewart-Haas Racing and some others as well. Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing have a common engine shop. Roush Fenway Racing provides Ford equipment and engines for Richard Petty Motorsports.
But Penske goes it alone for Dodge. And so far, the results are surprisingly good.
It was a Penske Dodge Charger that Kurt Busch drove to victory in Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Challenge at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In doing so, Busch and Dodge outran some powerful cars and drivers, like Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet and the Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
And Kurt Busch is holding his own in points-paying Sprint Cup races as well. He won at Atlanta earlier this year and is ninth in the standings on the strength of third-place finishes at Bristol and Darlington and a fourth at Texas.
The car he drove to victory in the All-Star Race, PRS-702, is the one he won with at Texas last fall and drove to the pole at Las Vegas this year, only to be taken out in a crash. It’ll likely be patched up from two scrapes with the wall on Saturday and brought back for this week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On the Nationwide Series side, Penske’s Dodges are doing even better. Brad Keselowski has two wins, at Talladega and Richmond, and just one finish worse than seventh – a 13th at Daytona, and he’s leading the points standings.
His teammate Justin Allgaier has a win at Bristol and is fifth in the standings.
The only disappointments in the Penske camp so far this year have been the struggles in Cup of Sam Hornish Jr., who is 30th in the standings and of Keselowski, who is 24th in his first full-time Cup season.
But Busch, in his winner’s interview after the All-Star Race, said he’s still facing somewhat of an uphill battle.
“It’s a tough series right now,” he said. “Last year we finished fourth overall. I knew that the [Richard Childress Racing] cars were going to be stronger. I knew that the Roush cars were going to be stronger.
“Right now we have five cars ahead of us that weren’t that strong last year. That moves us from fourth to ninth. We’re going to have to continue to fight harder and get ourselves up in the mix with the Gibbs and Hendrick guys week in and week out.”
Busch said one of his challenges this year is dealing with inconsistent results.
“What I’ve struggled with a little bit is just the hot and coldness of it,” he said. “The cold times I can’t quite define just yet. Continued from page 28
We’ll run third at Darlington one week and then we’ll back it up with blowing out right front tires at Dover the next week. Goodyear changes the tires quite often with the Car of Tomorrow. Some race tracks it comes into our favor, others it doesn’t. Tracks we’ve expected to do well on this year, we’ve struggled. Race tracks we’ve struggled on in years past, perfect example, Charlotte tonight, we run well on. I can’t quite figure that out.”
But he doesn’t expect a switch back to cold when he returns to Charlotte this week for the Coca-Cola 600.
“Momentum is at an all-time high here to win at Charlotte, with a completely different setup that we had in the race car,” he said. “That’s the most refreshing thing about it.”