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Roger Penske on the rebound...Maybe this season he'll make it NASCAR's Big Five


It's been quite a while since Roger Penske (C) has been awash in this much NASCAR victory champagne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Roger Penske has long been one of the class acts in sports, and in business.
  The phrase 'Penske Perfect' has long resonated.
   However the last two years have been rough on the man who was once Mr. Indianapolis, and who has played a major role in NASCAR – like putting together the California Speedway project – for nearly 40 years.
   So Sunday night here it was a jubilant Penske --- though it may be hard to imagine this poker-faced sports-business legend celebrating in any outlandish way – who walked into the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center, after Kurt Busch's rousing victory in a two-lap shootout.
   "Bet y'all didn't expect to see me in here, did you," Penske said with a big grin.
   For years Penske Racing was one of NASCAR's benchmarks, though Penske had never won at Daytona or won a NASCAR Cup championship, despite all his years with Rusty Wallace and Bobby Allison and others.
   Then just a year ago Ryan Newman got Penske that first Daytona 500 victory.
   However, it appeared almost an illusion as the season went on, and Penske's guys fell back into the slump.
   It has been a curious slump too. When Penske picked up Busch in a stunning move just months after Busch won the 2005 Cup title for rival car owner Jack Roush, it was, well, a coup. Busch was at that point one of this sport's top drivers. Obnoxious, well, yes. But at the wheel he was tough. Check the stats at Bristol.
   But until now Busch and Penske haven't really clicked. Busch's personality has changed dramatically, and now he's no longer the angry young man  but a polished – if sometimes very boring – figure.
   And last season was easily the low point, for Penske and for Busch.
   Busch and crew chief Pat Tryson suffered through a terrible season. Their cars-of-tomorrow were out to lunch at the tour's many mid-sized tracks.
   But at the early-season tire tests, when rivals put Busch's Dodge on the clock, they could tell something big had changed. The word in January was watch out for Kurt Busch.
   And he and Tryson have lived to those warnings. Sunday's win didn't come out of the blue.
   For Penske, it is relief.
   The last few seasons have been almost embarrassing.
   "Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush, Childress…these are great friends of mine, and I look up to them," Penske says.
    "We've won a lot of races, it's just unfortunate we haven't been dominant the last few years….
    "But to me it's like running a business. A business isn't successful the first day, or the first year.
   "I had to get Kurt to buy into that. I think he has.
   "This win was tremendous -- because we had the best car. I've never seen it so dominant since Rusty's win a number of years ago at Pocono.
   "We're a team, we want to win, we want to win fairly and squarely.
    "And for Dodge particularly, with the trouble they're going through with the government, I hope this gives them some momentum this week – when they sit down with the government, to show motor racing helps sell cars on Monday, and give morale to their team."
   While Dodge has had a new NASCAR engine for more than a year, most teams have ignored it. Penske is one of the few to push it.
   Now that may finally be paying off.
   It will be interesting to see how quickly Ford's Jack Roush and Doug Yates now step up with their own new engine.
   "Obviously the Dodge R6 engine had been terrific," Penske says. "Last week, a little disappointed, had some problems.
   "But our pit stops…..and all the guys back at the shop, with what they've done with the car…
   "There was not a lot of turnover on our team over the off-season. We were one of the teams that kept our people. And the overall guys – and  Pat and Kurt -- hung in. They saw what we were doing to try to get a better car.
    "And I think it's shown in these four races.
    "We're back in business.
     "It just takes execution."
   And Penske himself, as spotter, high above the stands, had a great perspective:
   "Kurt ran a foot off the wall all day long, and kept the car underneath him," Penske said, marveling at Busch's talent in the corners, where he kept brushing the wall ever so slightly on exit, reminiscent of how the late Dale Earnhardt would sometimes drive.
    "There was no question on the long runs we had a great car.
   "But what really came to the forefront was we put it all together.
   "We've had a great driver from the day he jumped on the team…but I'm not sure we've given him the horse he needed."
   Now it appears Penske has given him that horse.
   Let's see how hard Busch rides it. Bristol next week may be the perfect place to study him.


Too soon?

Is it too soon to say that Penske is back? This season is only 4 races old. Stremme is 26th in points. Hornish is 31st. However, it is hard to argue with Kurt's and Pat's success.

you might be right....however

you might be right....however kurt and pat have been strong since january testing, and they've shown that strength at several tracks. and history points to penske as a man who, when he gets on a roll, stays on it. and certainly he's due, after so many un-penske years. part of it, i think, has to do with dodge and the new engine (which penske alone has been developing) and the disarray (even abandonment) in other dodge camps. penske does best when he's the only guy with the toy -- and i thought it was interesting when, in january, we asked robbie loomis and richard petty and those guys about 'teaming' with penske on technology (or maybe it was they asking us...) and engines and they were enthusiastic about that....and when we inquired about that at the penske camp, it was a flat out 'no dice.'
and if you get any information for us all on that new dodge engine, be sure and pass it along right here.....

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