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If only Roger Penske could be as successful in NASCAR as at Indy....but maybe put some money on Kurt Busch this season

The Captain. Roger Penske. (Photo: Indy Racing League)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Forgive Roger Penske if this NASCAR thing sometimes gets a little frustrating to him. After all, he's been the king at Indianapolis for so long.
   But then at Indy his men have only seven or so rivals really to worry about.
   In NASCAR, well, there are a lot more.
   Cue Kurt Busch. The leader of the Penske Pack here this weekend.
   Penske, for all his years in NASCAR, finally won the Daytona 500 only last year.
   And Penske still has yet to win a NASCAR championship.
   This season, however, that may change:  Busch, though upstaged frequently by his brother, is finally back in the game now, after a miserable 2008.
   Though his luck has been fitful, the older Busch is back in the NASCAR championship hunt, coming into Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 here at Dover International Speedway just 115 points out of the lead.
   Busch's troubles at Charlotte last weekend? "A loose wheel.  It was the right-front.
   "The stud length on the new hubs they've mandated…I see it almost as a safety hazard, because they're so long the crew guys have trouble getting them tight every time. Therefore it creates a loose wheel situation.
   "We've had it almost every other race this year, and it's a big concern of mine to get this ironed out." 
   And a big concern for NASCAR execs at the moment is to get the sport's image back on track – sluggish crowds and sluggish TV ratings have created something of a malaise.
   What's Busch's take?
   Well, his solution is straightforward – he wants a bigger tire to race on, and he wants better tires to race on.
   "One of my big issues is the tire seems to be a question every week, and it's due to this new car," Busch says. 
    "So if Goodyear can produce a wider, or a bigger, tire, why don't we go to that?"

Kurt Busch: On the championship road again? Roger Penske hopes so (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Dover is an odd track. The concrete surface, now smooth, is its own creature. The speeds diving down into the first corner are breathtaking. The 'tunnel' coming up off turn two is always tricky, and usually where early wrecks occur.
   At least it's not a 500-miler any more. Those afternoons were really brutal.
   One key issue this weekend, as it always is at this track, is pit road. It's been one of the tightest, and most dangerous, on the stock car tour. But it's undergone a facelift.
   And drivers are curious about what to expect.
   "Dover has always been defined by the fact they have that horse track in the infield -- and it's limited space between pit wall and the pit boxes… and created the tight confines of the garage," Busch says.
   "It's going to be refreshing to see the changes.
   "I remember sharing a pit box at Dover my rookie year because I qualified so poorly.  They only had 42 boxes, and the last-place guy had to share.  It makes it difficult when you know you're behind the eight-ball to start with."


Dover's redesigned pit road extends deep into the fourth turn now (Photo: Dover International Speedway)


The new Dover pit road specs (Photo: Dover International Speedway)



Indeed, pit road here is so tricky that Friday qualifying is much more important than at most tracks.
   So, bottom line, Busch and crew chief Pat Tryson are hot, they've got speed and horsepower, they've got handling down rather well, and they've got Roger Penske on their side.
   Is it time to start thinking championship? After all, Busch won the 2004 title.
   "It's been a great season, and there are highlights I've seen that are just where they need to be, compared to my 2004 season," Busch says optimistically.
    "There have been a few areas we've improved on, and still can continue to improve on. 
   "But there's just a small thing here and small thing there that I'm seeing that -- if we can get fixed by the Richmond race in September, then that will make us as strong as we can be."
   And he says he's not quite sure if the team really has the right direction on its cars for the mid-sized tracks, like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Texas.
   "Once we decide which direction to start building cars towards this summer, that will help us get stronger and stronger…and right now we don't quite have the direction we need."
   While some teams have tried to take advantage of NASCAR's tight car-of-tomorrow rules to build more general all-purpose type race cars, Busch says his team has just about as many track-specific cars now as it did before the introduction of the new car.
   "Maybe we were to naïve at Penske Racing to think that we could run a car at Martinsville and then take it to Talladega the next week….and that might have shown in our results last year," Busch says.
   "Now our car count is getting back up to where it was before. And our performance seems to be going that way with it. 
    "You have to have all your ducks in a row, and your best stuff ready to go, for the chase. We could have taken our Charlotte, the car that won at Atlanta, to Texas (without changes). But we wanted to try something a little different in Texas, to find a better direction for the Charlotte weekend.  We feel that's our best bullet.
   "At Dover we'll want something different. 
    "And then you go to Michigan, and so on. 
    "It's a long season. Those 26 races can go by quick, though, if you're unprepared. 
    "Right now we're trying to get ourselves ready for this summer run to make us stronger for what we hope is our chase run."

The great spectacle in racing? Well, it does pack them in (Photo: Indy Racing League)


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