Daytona Victory not the Spark Penske hoped for

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Daytona Victory not the Spark Penske hoped for

Post  luckyGordongrl on Wed Feb 11, 2009 10:35 am

Daytona victory not the spark Penske hoped for

By MIKE HARRIS, AP Auto Racing Writer Feb 10, 4:05 pm EST

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)—Winning the Daytona 500 last February appeared to be a launching pad of sorts for Roger Penske’s NASCAR team.
When Ryan Newman took the checkered flag ahead of teammate Kurt Busch at Daytona, it gave the team owner more than a victory in NASCAR’s biggest race to go with his 14 wins in the Indianapolis 500. It also raised hopes for Penske’s first Sprint Cup title, adding to his 22 national championships, including 12 IndyCar titles.
Instead, 2008 proved less than memorable for Penske, with the team’s only other victory coming by Busch in a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire.
Neither Busch nor Newman came close to making the 12-man field for the Chase for the championship. Stock car rookie Sam Hornish Jr., a three-time open-wheel champion who gave Penske one of those Indy wins, kept slipping on NASCAR’s learning curve.

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Another blow came when negotiations to keep Newman fell apart at midseason. He signed with Tony Stewart’s new Stewart-Haas Racing operation and became a lame-duck driver in July.
“Obviously, as we were unable to get Ryan to renew early last year, that creates that little bit of tension within the organization,” Penske said.
Beyond Newman’s impending departure, though, Busch pointed to a breakdown in communications among Penske’s three teams as the real problem last season.
“That’s where we’re making the biggest changes and, hopefully, the biggest improvements this year, team communication, teamwork and putting the right people in place,” Busch explained.
“Our race shop is a fantastic atmosphere to work in. It demands excellence and we do have excellent mechanics and engineers working on our cars. It’s just a matter of finding that chemistry and getting it from the race shop to the racetrack and then making the right adjustments at the racetrack. I believe we can be a contender.”
Busch won the Cup championship in 2004 while driving for Jack Roush and moved to the Penske team in 2006, replacing longtime star Rusty Wallace in the No. 2 Dodge. When Busch arrived at his new team, he found himself in the middle of a reorganization.
“There were a lot of changes, a lot of revamping to start off 2006,” Busch noted. “We started off with a win at Bristol, which was great, but then we struggled. We rebounded with a great year in 2007, making the Chase, winning twice and having a shot at the championship.”
The good feelings from 2007 disappeared quickly after the 1-2 finish in the Daytona 500 when the Penske team had trouble with NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow. The CoT was run in just 16 races in 2007, but went to full-time use last year.
“Hands down, we struggled the most with the CoT, I believe,” Busch said. “It’s up to us to figure it out internally, how to make this car better.”
To that end, the team has made a number of personnel changes, including moving technical director Tom German—credited with guiding Penske to much of its recent open-wheel success—to the NASCAR operation last fall. The also moved David Stremme from test driver into the seat vacated by Newman in the No. 12.
“The objective was to get the three teams to communicate better, first and foremost, which is working<” Busch said. “Secondly, we’ve added 30 years of experience by adding a couple of crew guys to our team during the off season.”
“In my mind, if everybody has the same (car), it’s up to the experienced guys to make a difference when you’re going through tech or making decisions about how to set up the car.”
Now, a new season awaits and the team is preparing to defend its victory in NASCAR’s biggest race Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Busch said Stremme brings more than just driving talent to the team.
“It’s amazing the energy level and enthusiasm that David Stremme has compared to where Ryan was in July last year,” Busch said. “So it’s a good mix with enthusiasm and optimism. … And I think with David being around the block before, we won’t have to go through as steep a learning curve as we did with Sam. And now that we have Sam up to speed better, that should only make it stronger.”
Penske’s best year in NASCAR was 1993 when Wallace finished second in the points. He said he doesn’t know what to expect, particularly after a winter with no testing—a move by NASCAR to save teams money in tough economic times.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the wind tunnel,” Penske said. “I think we’ve got cars that will race well. The main thing, though, is we’ve got three good sponsors and we’ll be here all year.”;_ylt=ApzXSPCJPkpwX0ZaxbTlRe7ov7YF?slug=ap-nascar-daytona500-penske&prov=ap&type=lgns

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