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Richmond: Kurt Busch needs more HP; Trevor Bayne needs medicine

  A smokin' start at Daytona for Kurt Busch. But since then he's faded. Is the answer under the hood? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   What's wrong with Penske engines this season?
   While a lot of people are asking questions about Joe Gibbs' Toyota engine problems, not many yet have been looking that closely at the Penske camp, which also appears to have some issues.
   To be blunt, it appears the Penske Dodge engines are under-horsepowered, compared to the Chevys and Toyotas (see Martin Truex Jr., with his TRD motors), and especially compared to the new Ford FR9.

   So Kurt Busch has had to drive his tail off this spring to keep up in the standings, where he is doing rather well…though relying on durability to stay the distance rather than horsepower to kick butt.
   Or at least that's what insiders are saying about the Penske camp.
   Most rivals appear to have been making some good licks during the season's first eight Sprint Cup races. But the Penske bunch appears to be lagging.
   A really good indicator should be next week's Goodyear tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the July 31 Brickyard 400; Busch is one of the men testing.
   "This is one of the most important tests of the season," Steve Addington, Busch's crew chief, says.
   It's been quite a while – 2005 – since Busch last won at Richmond International Raceway. So how he might fare in Saturday night's 400 – the "Crown Royal presents the Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400" – is debatable.
    Busch's strength this season has been that he's finished every race on the lead lap except Martinsville, where he finished a lap down. That's the best record of any driver: running 2508 of the possible 2509 laps.
   For comparison, tour leader Carl Edwards has missed 61 laps; Kevin Harvick, 188 laps; Kyle Busch, 205 laps.
   Yes, that's good. But Kurt Busch realizes "If we're going to be in serious contention come September (for the championship playoffs), we have to start threatening for wins and finishing in the top-five."
   And over the last four races – Talladega, Texas, Martinsville and California – Kurt has averaged just 15th place finishes.
   What's the game plan for Saturday night?
   "You have to come in thinking the yellow flag will prevail (at the end), like it normally does, and we'll have some restarts at the end of the race," Kurt says.  "We usually have a period of long green-flag racing in the middle portion of the race.  So we hope to have our Dodge capable of running solid during that stretch and still be adjustable enough to be able to really get after it  in a short sprint to the finish, if it comes down to that."

   Over in the Joe Gibbs' Toyota camp, it appears that the engine problems that have hurt the teams at times this spring may be related to the new E15 ethanol-gasoline fuel being used this season. That new fuel doesn't have the same lubricating additives that normal racing gas has, and that has had some NASCAR engine builders scrambling.
   While Gibbs' ace engine man Mark Cronquist has been wrestling with that fuel-lubrication issue, he, according to those familiar with the situation, has decided to back off on the horsepower.
   Curiously perhaps Toyota's own TRD engine operation doesn't appear to have that particular problem; Martin Truex Jr., for example, has been quite strong, with TRD motors.
   The Gibbs horsepower issue may be one reason Denny Hamlin has been off the pace this spring. But some outsiders also wonder if Hamlin isn't still suffering from the lingering effects of last fall's championship issues.

   Meanwhile the Carl Edwards Sweepstakes is heating up, with Team Red Bull now joining the Joe Gibbs camp in the battle to sign the stock car tour points leader. Certainly Edwards is the most desirable free agent right now, and it looks like the battle is between Toyota and Ford: Will Jack Roush keep Edwards in the Ford fold, or will a Toyota team sign him?

   Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne will miss Friday night's Nationwide 250 here, while he's being treated for apparent lingering effects from an insect bite a few weeks ago. Bayne, fifth in the Nationwide standings, has been hospitalized; another Roush driver will run the 250.

   On the good news side of things, ESPN's live broadcast of Saturday's Nationwide race at Nashville Superspeedway earned some good numbers: nearly two millions viewers, the network says, with a 1.5 national rating. For the year ESPN's Nationwide coverage is averaging a 1.6 rating, up from 1.4 over the same span last spring.



 Trevor Bayne: hospitalized for complications from an insect bite. He'll miss the Richmond 250 Nationwide race Friday night, which could cost him in the championship picture (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Thank you for your story, and

Thank you for your story, and especially for being much more fair to Kurt than a few others. I would like to see them out there driving that Penske car in a race as it is right now. Kurt's my guy, the most fan friendly driver of quality in the garage.

Great article Mike! Thanks

Great article Mike! Thanks for covering what is going on at Penske I am a 22 and 2 fan I think you are the only one covering this angle! I'm wondering if you can follow-up and provide some more analysis on a recent personnel change made at Penske that would suggest that the Performance problems are perhaps more chassis oriented.

Here is background info recently gleaned from in-car communications:
During a number of recent races Kurt made references to someone named Tom at Penske that had implemented a new chassis design that was way off. According to Busch, The cars were so tight that no in-race adjustments could every correct the situation. In describing how bad the tight condition was, he told Steve Addington that he had the steering at "full lock left" only 3 laps into a run! At that point he called to Toms head!

Two weeks later Penske announced that Tom was leaving to attend MIT/ for greener pastures.

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