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Penske Beginning to Make A Move In Sprint Cup

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 28 2009
Kurt Busch is on point as Penske Racing claws its way to being competitive in Sprint Cup. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch is on point as Penske Racing claws its way to being competitive in Sprint Cup. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Changing race teams is always a risky move for a driver. Sometimes it pays off in a big way. Kyle Busch went from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing last year and has won 11 races since then after winning a total of four at Hendrick.

His older brother Kurt Busch moved from Jack Roush’s team to Roger Penske’s beginning with the 2006 season, but he’s yet to post the numbers at Penkse that he did at Roush. Of his 19 career Cup victories, he has just five since joining Penske. And after winning a championship at Roush in 2004, he’s had points finishes of 16th, seventh and 18th with Penske.

But things are looking better this year for Kurt Busch. He scored a dominating win at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this year, leading 234 laps. And he has a total of three top-five and six top-10 finishes in the first 12 races which has him third in the points standings, 115 markers behind leader Jeff Gordon.

Busch was the guest this week on the NASCAR teleconference and talked about the improvements that have been made at his Penske team, which includes the No. 12 of David Stremme and the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr. Those two haven’t enjoyed the success Busch has. Stremme is 26th in the standings while Hornish is 30th, but NASCAR’s loop data indicates they’re racing hard. Stremme leads all drivers in green-flag passes with 1,285 this season and Hornish has 1,151, more than any driver in the top 12 in the standings.

Busch acknowledged that the Car of Tomorrow has been and continues to be a challenge for his organization.

“It’s been a battle with the new car, and we felt like we had to improve in all areas of the program, whether it’s downforce [or] better power from the new engine,” he said. “The setups that we’re running seem to be quite a bit different than last year.”

He said last year’s lackluster results led to some serious work over the winter.

“Going through a year of hardship and struggle of last year helped us focus this off-season to develop new things, new ideas,” he said. “We can’t just really point our finger at one thing that’s helped us. It’s been all around. So we look forward to more ideas and better things that can advance our program to keeping us at this level.”

Sometimes the struggles with the car have led to some difficult exchanges between Busch and his crew, including team owner Roger Penske, during the heat of battle. Busch said those situations are best dealt with by everyone working harder to make the car more competitive.

“We’ve got a good solid group of guys, whether it’s the road team or the pit crew that jumps over the wall, and even the guys back at the race shop are all motivated to build better cars and get the best result that we can,” he said. “When you’re having troub les and struggles, everybody wants to work harder and try to put those hard times behind us and move forward….. 

“I’ve got a good group of guys that know what’s being said but actually what needs to be done is really the group of guys that you want.”

One big question hanging over Penske and all of the other teams that field Dodge race cars is what happens if the automaker’s struggles to deal with a sagging economy begin to seriously impact the support it can give its race teams. Busch said all he can really do is try to race hard and convince motorists to buy Dodge products.

“It’s always difficult to play what-if, and right now our concern is to make Dodge as fast as we can on the race track to allow people to feel comfortable with their decision to buy a Dodge product,” he said. “And for us to be third in points racing our Dodge Charger feels good, and we just have to continue to work hard to keep at that pace.”

And if a worst-case scenario presents itself, he’s confident his car owner can successfully deal with it.

“It’s always difficult to look beyond what is current or what the reality is, and so therefore I look up to a guy like Roger Penske to make those decisions for us,” Busch said. “To me it wouldn’t present any type of problem if we did have to switch, but right now our concern is to really go forward with our Dodge products and make sure that they’re receiving all of the credit with this new engine and the products that they give us to race.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 28 2009
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