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Joey Logano wins Pure Michigan 400 from pole position at MIS

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Joey Logano took first at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway last Friday. It was his first win since joining Penske Racing, and the win wasn’t the only highlight of the day. Logano broke the track record of 203.241 mph previously helped by Marcos Ambrose. Logano’s No. Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion took the track at 203.949 mph. His qualifying lap enters the record books as the ninth fastest pole-winning lap in the history of the Sprint Cup Series.

Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson also bested Ambrose’s record, coming in as the second- and third-place qualifiers for the day. Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., acknowledged the speed, saying, “The car’s got a lot of grip. I think the track is even more abrasive than the first trip here. The cars are carrying a little more speed than the first trip here in practice and qualifying.”

Overall, it was a pretty good day for Logano on the MIS, which has been described as the sport’s fastest track thanks to the greater amount of banking. He tailed Mark Martin, his childhood hero, in the final stages of the race, finally taking the lead when the No. 55 Toyota ran out of fuel with only three laps to go. Not only did he best Cup veterans Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, but he also moved from 16th place in series points to the number 13 spot. There are still three races left before the Chase for the Championship, and Logano’s momentum might push him far enough to make it.

Logano began racing in 2009 at Joe Gibbs racing. This win was the third in his Cup career and the first for 2013. The risk that Roger Penske took on the young driver has paid off. Penske, former owner of MIS during the early 1970s, called Logano’s win one of the biggest in 30 years. It was particularly meaningful since Penske hails from Detroit.

“What a great time to win, being in Ford’s backyard, being in Roger’s backyard,” Logano said in an after-race interview. “I’m glad to make the most of it.”

Rounding out the race’s top ten were Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

[Photo Source: http://www.freep.com]

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Keselowski gets his game on

Brad Gets His Game On

Sports – Brad Keselowski’s New Ride

LAS VEGAS — Less than six hours before being honored as the 2012 Sprint Cup champion Friday, on the biggest night of his young career, Brad Keselowski was in the basement of the Penske Ferrari dealership attached to the Wynn Las Vegas.

He wasn’t choosing one of the sleek, exorbitant cars to purchase with his share of the $5.7 million bonus he got for winning the title.

He wasn’t even checking out the merchandise that includes some of team owner Roger Penske’s prized show cars.

He was playing video games.

Well, sort of.

Keselowski was in the cockpit of a Formula One Ferrari shell that is part of the Shell Professional Simulator Experience. He was tackling The Circuit of Americas course in Austin, Texas, that recently hosted its inaugural Grand Prix event.

He was turning laps of just over 1 minute, 39 seconds, slightly more than three seconds behind the pole time of 1 minute, 35.657 seconds that Sebastian Vettel had on this 20-turn road course.

“I left something out there,” Keselowski said afterward.

This could be the future of all motorsports. Ferrari already uses the simulator to train prospective F1 drivers before they get on the track and educate veteran drivers learning new circuits.

Penske was so impressed with how realistic the machine was, how it was so finely tuned that it simulated every bump, slide and wiggle — everything but g-forces — that he is looking to possibly purchase one for his IndyCar organization and perhaps one for the NASCAR side if it can be adapted to it.

“In talking to Brad, it focuses you mentally, whether it’s a road course or whatever it might be,” Penske said. “I’m really interested in seeing if it is worthwhile for us.”

Tiny beads of sweat were on Keselowski’s forehead after about 20 minutes in the machine, indicating just how realistic it is. The 28-year-old driver was mildly frustrated that he could have turned a faster lap. There was almost the same intensity on his face that he had before the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he clinched the championship.

The competitive juices were flowing as Keselowski tried to get everything he could out of the machine, just as though he were qualifying for the Daytona 500.

Penske was equally captivated by the simulator during a social gathering the night before. Like Keselowski, he almost had to be dragged from it.

“I wanted to get more time in it, but I was so damned bad at it that I put somebody else in it,” Penske said. “But I sure want to get back in when nobody is watching to see if I could get better.”

He may have that chance on Dec. 14 when the simulator is transported to Penske Racing in Mooresville, N.C., for the team Christmas party. It’s such a big event that Anton Stipinovich, who heads the company All In Sports, which developed the machine, is expected to make the trip from Modena, Italy.

Only two other machines are exactly like this in the world. One is owned by the Ferrari Driver Academy in Italy, and the other is in the home of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

They’re not cheap. They run about a half-million dollars, well more than Keselowski will pay for the tank he really does plan to buy with his share of the championship profit.

But if you’re a car owner — or a driver like Alonso with money to spare — this is an investment in the future. That’s particularly true in F1, in which testing is limited.

“The use of simulation testing is completely unlimited, which is why they have become so important to teams and sponsors [in F1],” said Anthony Dealtry, the senior account executive for Crunch Communications, which travels with this machine.

The simulator is designed to be as realistic as possible, down to the car getting faster as the tires and brakes get hot. Dealtry doesn’t see why it can’t be adapted to IndyCar and even NASCAR, although the value in stock cars wouldn’t be as great because so many tracks are ovals compared to road courses, where you need more time learning the turns.

And while people like me can have fun in them, these aren’t toys. The hand-eye coordination and the ability to multitask between changing gears and other telemetry while keeping up with the track separate the amateurs from the professionals in a hurry.

Keselowski showed quickly the skills that helped him become NASCAR’s newest champion. After an initial lap of 1 minute, 55 seconds, he was down to 1 minute, 41 seconds.

If it weren’t for the banquet, he probably would have stayed in the machine until he broke 1 minute, 36 seconds.

“I know there’s a 135 out there,” he said.

Dealtry was impressed, but a minute and 35 seconds?

“I’m not so sure about that,” he said. “But I like his optimism.”

The simulator is addictive. Keselowski was so hooked that he called a Penske official at 11 p.m. on Thursday and asked if he could open the shop for him and a few other drivers.

It didn’t happen, but he was back the next morning immediately after a dress rehearsal for the banquet.

“What was so impressive about Brad was his ability to spot the right line around the track to make sure he was picking up time,” Dealtry said.

I didn’t perform nearly as well, finding the right line into the wall more than once. Whether it was adjusting to the left-foot brake pedal that was stiffer than a 2-by-4, my inability to watch the track and the light that tells you when to change the flappy-paddle gearbox, or just pure lack of talent, I was a wreck waiting to happen.

But I know my spot in the world is behind a keyboard, just as Keselowski knows his spot is behind the wheel.

Someday, Keselowski admittedly would like to give an open-wheel car a spin for real. But Penske isn’t ready to offer him a ride in the Indianapolis 500 like he did to Tony Stewart.

That offer, by the way, was almost like an empty promise, since Stewart has made it clear he has no desire to do another double — Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day — and the timing of the two events makes it almost impossible to do.

“I’m not sure I’d make the recommendation today,” Penske said of putting Keselowski in an Indy or F1 car. “He has some [goals] left in NASCAR before he gets to … open wheel.”

Or, as Keselowski said, you won’t see him in an F1 car as “long as my Cup team keeps running this awesome.”

But at least for a few days in Vegas, he could pretend.

[Source: ESPN.Go.com]

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General

Joey Logano to Join Penske Racing in 2013

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 4, 2012) – Penske Racing announced today that Joey Logano will join the team in 2013. He will drive the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Logano, 22, a two-time Sprint Cup Series winner who is currently competing in his fourth full season, will begin a multi-year agreement with Penske Racing.

“I am very excited to join Penske Racing and begin the next phase of my career,” said Logano. “I am looking forward to the opportunity as it will be an honor to drive for Roger Penske and race for wins and championships. I am also proud to represent Shell-Pennzoil as they are a respected global brand that does a great job of activating in the sport on and off the track.”

In addition to his pair of victories, four poles and 16 top-five finishes in his young Cup Series career, Logano has also produced 15 wins and 19 poles in five seasons competing part time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

“Joey Logano is a very talented driver who has already achieved a lot of success at a young age,” said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. “Joey is a great fit for our organization and we look forward to building on his success as he takes his place behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford.”

With an impressive track record of winning from an early age, Logano has established himself as one of NASCAR’s fastest rising stars. He started racing quarter midgets at the age of six and won his first championship just one year later. After rising up quickly through the racing ranks, Logano became the youngest winner in Nationwide Series history when he won at Kentucky Speedway at the age of 18 in 2008. Just one year later he won at New Hampshire to become the youngest winner ever in Cup Series competition. Logano went on to be named 2009 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, setting the stage for a bright future in the sport.

“We welcome Joey Logano to the Shell-Pennzoil team, and we know he will do a great job representing our brands and Penske Racing in 2013 and beyond,” said Lisa Davis, president, Shell Lubricants Americas. “Joey is clearly a special talent on the race track, and we look forward to working with him off the track as well.”

Logano will join Brad Keselowski, a three-time race winner and championship contender in 2012, and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team to form a potent combination for Penske Racing in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Penske Racing is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Competing in a variety of disciplines, cars owned and prepared by Penske Racing have produced 362 major race wins – including 15 Indianapolis 500 victories – 423 pole positions and 23 National Championships. For more information about Penske Racing, please visit www.penskeracing.com.

[Source: PenskeRacing.com]

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Todd Gordon named crew chief for Penske’s No. 22

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Penske Racing’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger may still be without a driver for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, following the abrupt dismissal of Kurt Busch on Dec. 5, but the team has at least solidified its crew situation. Penske announced that Todd Gordon has been promoted to the crew chief role for the car. He replaces Steve Addington, who announced he was leaving Penske prior to Busch’s departure. Addington has since signed on with Stewart-Haas Racing as Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart’s new crew chief.

Gordon ran Brad Keselowski’s No. 22 NASCAR Nationwide Series car this year – his first with Penske – and the combo scored six wins and six pole positions.

“Our first priority is always to look within the walls of Penske Racing when making personnel decisions,” said Roger Penske. “We want to reward success. The path we are taking with Todd mirrors what we did with Paul Wolfe who led the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge to a Chase berth in 2011. We think Todd can get the job done in the same manner.”

Gordon joined Penske Racing in January of 2011. He and Keselowski quickly developed a driver-crew chief rapport that resulted in another successful season, helping make the No. 22 Dodge one of the premier entries in NNS competition.

“I can’t thank Roger and everyone at Penske Racing enough for this vote of confidence,” said Gordon. “It’s an honor to step into a race-winning team. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is an organization full of talented people who know how to get the job done. I look forward to getting the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge back in Victory Lane.”

The team said that it “continues to evaluate drivers to fill the seat” of the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.

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NASCAR: Kurt Busch ready for the battle at Phoenix II

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Busch says Sunday’s Battle is “Big Wild”

Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge

Kurt Busch, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger driver Kurt Busch says you might as well consider that this weekend’s Kobalt Tools 500 is being held on “Arizona Motor Speedway” or maybe “Avondale International Raceway.” The 2004 series champion’s point is that the one-mile band of asphalt that the premier stock car series has raced on since 1988 has undergone such an immense change that it’s “totally different from the old Phoenix International Raceway.

“The scenic location, the grandstands and the facilities may remain the same, but this is definitely not your old PIR that everyone had gotten accustomed to,” said Busch, whose record on the old layout boasted one win, four top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 17 races. “It’s a case of throwing all your old notes and data out the window because it is like racing at a brand new track. All the knowledge you’ve gained and logged before there doesn’t apply at all now.

“It’s just a totally different track,” continued Busch. “After the testing we all did there, we’re coming back convinced there’s only going to be one groove and it won’t be very wide. Restarts will be treacherous. We’ll see how it shakes out. It will be a ‘fill the tank up with gas and ride it to the end’ situation with how the tires did not and likely will not be wearing out there this weekend.

“It’ll be a big wild-card race as far as the big picture is concerned. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s the same situation for everyone out there. I just hope like heck that if there’s a late caution, I am running in an odd-numbered spot and can line up on the inside for the restart. If you’re stuck on the outside there at the end, it could be a huge blow. With every position meaning a point in the standings, it could be very wild at the end of this one on Sunday.”

Immediately after the last visit to PIR for the Feb. 27 Subway Fresh Fit 500, track crews went to work reconfiguring the track where the late Alan Kulwicki claimed the first big league victory on Nov. 6, 1988. After 30 races were held on the old layout, construction workers made tweaks to the track’s banking and a major adjustment to the “dogleg” on the backstretch.

Here are the specifics: Progressive banking has been added to the turns. Turns 1 and 2, which previously had 11 degrees of banking, now have 10 degrees on the bottom and 11 on the top. Turns 3 and 4, which previously had nine degrees of banking, now have eight degrees on the bottom and nine at the top.

The backstretch “dogleg” that was more of a flat “jut” than an actual turn has been transformed into more of a distinct turn with the same 10 to 11 degrees of progressive banking as is in Turns 1 and 2.

“They even widened the frontstretch, too,” said Busch of the straightaway in front of the main grandstand that is now 10 feet wider than was the case with the old layout.

While Busch’s primary focus entering this weekend’s return to the “new PIR” is the immediate challenge that the new layout presents, he is also cognizant of the importance to be competitive during Sunday’s race at Phoenix and the season finale on Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Even though we won the race at Dover during the Chase, we just haven’t had the consistency we needed and haven’t put the numbers on the board that we needed to,” said Busch, who has a 10.4 average start and 16.9 average finish during the eight Chase races. “Getting caught up in the crash at Talladega pretty much wiped out any chance of a championship run and we’ve been trying to get it turned around since.

“From a big-picture standpoint, we need to be competitive in these final two races of the season. Everyone will be in the same boat at Phoenix this weekend and we’re hoping we can be the guys who get the new configuration figured out and catch a few breaks along the way. If we can do that and then go down to Homestead and have another competitive weekend, it’ll be just what we need to look back on our season as a huge success and feel good about it.”

“We’ve just had a rough time out there since Talladega and we’ve been trying to get our competitive rhythm going again,” offered crew chief Steve Addington. “We know our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team is capable enough to end this season off on a high note. Kurt and everybody else on our team are hungry for another win or two in the next couple of weeks and we’ll all be out there giving it everything we have to get the job done.”

Busch, Addington and the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge Team will be racing the “PRS-748” chassis this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The action in the desert this weekend will mark the first time out for the car in the “Double-Deuce” Shell-Pennzoil colors. However, Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski drove this car dressed in the No. 2 Miller Lite scheme during the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (finished 18th), in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis (started fifth & finished ninth) and the September Dover race (started 15th & finished 20th). The “PRS-749” chassis, which Busch raced in both Richmond races this season, will serve as the backup Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend.

Source: Motorsports

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Busch Posts 11th-Fastest Lap in Daytona 500 Qualifying

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 13, 2011) – Kurt Busch and the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger team led the Penske Racing NASCAR Cup Series qualifying effort for the 53rd Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

Busch recorded the 11th-fastest lap during the qualifying session that only sets the front row for the Daytona 500. He toured the 2.5-mile oval in 48.676 seconds, or 184.896 miles per hour. Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski posted the 24th-fastest time in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

“It was a good, solid run for our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge in qualifying.  We actually exceeded the lap time that we were going to run and that gives us great optimism knowing that this is our primary car with a better motor than what we had in the Shootout last night.  Things are definitely thumbs up.”

The Daytona 500 will air live at 1:00 p.m. ET on the FOX network on Sunday, February 20th. Race coverage will also be broadcast live on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius Satellite Radio.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Results
Pos Car Driver Team Reason
1 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet 48.364 186.089 0.000 0.000
2 24 Jeff Gordon Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet 48.396 185.966 0.032 0.032
3 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford 48.532 185.445 0.168 0.136
4 27 Paul Menard Menards/Peak Chevrolet 48.538 185.422 0.174 0.006
5 33 Clint Bowyer Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet 48.590 185.223 0.226 0.052
6 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet 48.630 185.071 0.266 0.040
7 39 Ryan Newman U.S.Army Chevrolet 48.648 185.002 0.284 0.018
8 5 Mark Martin GoDaddy.com Chevrolet 48.651 184.991 0.287 0.003
9 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford 48.672 184.911 0.308 0.021
10 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet 48.672 184.911 0.308 0.000
11 22 Kurt Busch Shell/Pennzoil Dodge 48.676 184.896 0.312 0.004
12 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet 48.711 184.763 0.347 0.035
13 9 Marcos Ambrose Stanley Ford 48.715 184.748 0.351 0.004
14 29 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet 48.717 184.740 0.353 0.002
15 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet 48.731 184.687 0.367 0.014
16 6 David Ragan UPS Ford 48.751 184.612 0.387 0.020
17 * 09 Bill Elliott Phoenix Construction Chevrolet 48.772 184.532 0.408 0.021
18 99 Carl Edwards Aflac Ford 48.787 184.475 0.423 0.015
19 43 A J Allmendinger Best Buy Ford 48.836 184.290 0.472 0.049
20 * 38 Travis Kvapil(i) Long John Silver’s Ford 48.841 184.271 0.477 0.005
21 * 87 Joe Nemechek(i) AM FM Energy Toyota 48.854 184.222 0.490 0.013
22 17 Matt Kenseth Crown Royal Black Ford 48.886 184.102 0.522 0.032
23 00 David Reutimann Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota 48.908 184.019 0.544 0.022
24 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 48.911 184.008 0.547 0.003
25 * 15 Michael Waltrip NAPA Auto Parts Toyota 48.922 183.966 0.558 0.011
26 * 36 Dave Blaney Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 48.968 183.793 0.604 0.046
27 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet 48.997 183.685 0.633 0.029
28 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet 48.998 183.681 0.634 0.001
29 4 Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 49.019 183.602 0.655 0.021
30 18 Kyle Busch M&M’s Toyota 49.021 183.595 0.657 0.002
31 47 Bobby Labonte Kroger/USO Toyota 49.026 183.576 0.662 0.005
32 83 Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 49.031 183.557 0.667 0.005
33 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Toyota 49.058 183.456 0.694 0.027
34 20 Joey Logano Home Depot Toyota 49.125 183.206 0.761 0.067
35 * 60 Todd Bodine(i) Tire Kingdom/Valvoline Toyota 49.165 183.057 0.801 0.040
36 * 97 Kevin Conway(i) Extenze Toyota 49.194 182.949 0.830 0.029
37 * 13 Casey Mears GEICO Toyota 49.216 182.867 0.852 0.022
38 34 David Gilliland Taco Bell Ford 49.262 182.697 0.898 0.046
39 77 Steve Wallace(i) 5-hour Energy Toyota 49.295 182.574 0.931 0.033
40 * 66 Michael McDowell HP Racing LLC Toyota 49.333 182.434 0.969 0.038
41 7 Robby Gordon SPEED Energy Dodge 49.418 182.120 1.054 0.085
42 * 32 Terry Labonte U.S. Chrome Ford 49.589 181.492 1.225 0.171
43 37 Robert Richardson Jr.(i) North Texas Pipe Ford 49.596 181.466 1.232 0.007
44 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota 49.637 181.316 1.273 0.041
45 * 46 J J Yeley Red Line Oil Chevrolet 49.730 180.977 1.366 0.093
46 71 Andy Lally Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet 49.771 180.828 1.407 0.041
47 * 64 Derrike Cope Sta-Bil Toyota 50.592 177.894 2.228 0.821
48 * 92 Brian Keselowski K-Automotive Dodge 50.681 177.581 2.317 0.089

[Source: penskeracing.com]

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General

Busch and Shell-Pennzoil Team Win Daytona Shootout

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Daytona 500 Testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch won Saturday night’s Shootout at Daytona International Speedway to score his first-ever career restrictor-plate victory. In what has become commonplace with the seasoned veteran and 2004 NASCAR champ, Busch was quick to heap praise on almost everyone but himself.

“It was an awesome night for our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team and what a great thrill it is to win the first time out with our new colors,” Busch said. “We finally came home the winner in one of these plate races and I certainly have to thank Steve Addington and my Penske Racing Team for giving me a great race car. All the hard work they have put in over the last several months certainly paid huge dividends here tonight.”

“But, I have to really thank quite a few of the other competitors and credit them for their help. Jamie McMurray was the man tonight. He drafted with us all during the final segment of the race. He stayed true and I will always be appreciative of that. We had hoped to work with the 78 car (Regan Smith), but when he got shuffled out so early in the race, we had to look for someone else to run with. Mark Martin came to the rescue. We finished the first segment working so well together that during the break I sprinted down to his pits to thank him and get his commitment to work with us again during the final 50 laps.

“We started out running with Mark, but when we got split up we fell to the rear. Jamie and I were both looking for partners and when we hooked up, that was just what we needed to dig our way back up to the front. We hadn’t drafted together in practice, but we’ve had a great history of working well with each other. It certainly was the case in this race. I can’t thank him enough for doing that tonight.

“But, I also need to thank my Penske Racing teammate, Brad Keselowski,” Busch said. “No, he wasn’t in tonight’s race, but he really is due an ‘atta boy’ for helping us win. This is a whole new breed of competition that we witnessed out there tonight. It’s partner racing because of the two-car drafts you always have to be in. When we tested down here last month, it was Brad and I – the 2 car and the 22 car – who stayed down here for all three days trying to figure this new deal out. He came into Victory Lane tonight to congratulate us and I told him to just wait till next week; that it’ll be the ‘double-deuce’ and the ‘deuce’ out there trying to accomplish the same thing.”

Busch started 17th Saturday night. His plans on drafting with Smith fell by the wayside after only three laps. Busch floundered for two laps before hooking up with Martin. They drafted all the way up to run as the second “twosome” on Lap 15, but when they tried to switch positions, they separated and fell back. When they finally regrouped to run together again, the laps had wound down, with Busch running 15th and Martin 16th at the Lap 25 break. Busch sprinted a quarter of the way down pit road with Addington in tow in order to iron out a pact with Martin and the No. 5 Hendrick Team.

Busch and Martin ran well together during the early part of the final 50-lap segment, but they were split seven laps into the session. Martin wound up hooking up with Kyle Busch. Bump-drafting too deep into Turn 1 saw that duo crash out of the race on Lap 35. Shortly after the restart, Busch has drifted toward the back of the field. McMurray had lost his Ganassi teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and needed another driver to run with. When they locked together, it was a powerful combination that moved toward the front immediately. The tandem shot up through the pack and had Busch at the point for the first time of the race on Lap 46.

At the end, it turned into a four-pack run to the finish, with Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin hooked up and racing with the Busch/McMurray duo. Hamlin got under Newman coming down to the line, with Busch on the outside. What would have been a photo finish between the No. 22 car and the No. 11 car was nullified when Hamlin passed below the yellow line and was penalized to the end of the lead lap cars.

At the checkers, it was Busch taking the win, with McMurray second, Newman third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Greg Biffle fifth. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-10 finishers.

“I wanted to give those guys a push hard getting into Turn 1 and I never got to them,” Busch said of the final nail-biting circuit around this 2.5-mile track. “Then my game plan changed to take whatever I could get. I knew the 11 was going to split away from the 39. I was hoping he would do it soon enough. It worked out in our favor at the end because McMurray stayed with us. For Shell and Pennzoil to believe in Penske and me; this is unbelievable to deliver them a victory in this 22 car.”

“This is a special day,” Busch told the media representatives gathered in the infield media center after the race. “I’ve tried very hard over the last 11 years to break through on a restrictor-plate race. To pull into victory lane at Daytona, I knew that this was a special moment and I sucked it all in. You never know when that chance will be again. I’ve always respected this race track. I’ve always thought of the times that I’ve finished second here, not just in Cup cars, but in the Truck series and IROC. I can’t get mad. I can’t get discouraged. I know that one day it will come back for me. And with the fresh pavement and a new outlook on what this draft was going to be about, basically this is the old-school-style racing with slingshot with two cars tied up together. That’s what it reminded me of. I had flashbacks of slingshots, but you have to have the guy behind you. It’s an unbelievable experience to win here at Daytona. To win a restrictor-plate race at Daytona after years of trying – it’s not a points race – but it’s a very special race and heck, we knocked out the All-Star race last year in Charlotte and we got the Shootout tonight. Steve and I are doing pretty good at knocking out big events together.”

Next up on the 2011 Speed Weeks schedule is Sunday’s qualifying session for next weekend’s Daytona 500. Set to begin at 1:10 p.m., Busch is scheduled out 32nd in the qualifying order. The action will feature live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio (live streaming on NASCAR.com).

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General

Two cars better than three at Penske

Brad Keselowski

Can you get better if you continue to get smaller?

Last season, Dodge proved it could race competitively in Sprint Cup with one three-car team at Penske Racing. This year, Penske has downsized to a two-car team in Cup.

In this case, one fewer Cup team doesn’t mean less people for Roger Penske’s operation. The organization expanded its engineering and technical departments. So for Penske Racing in 2011, less is more.

“We had the opportunity to move our people from one area to another within the sport,” Penske said during the NASCAR media tour last month. “As we go into 2011, I feel a lot better because the economy certainly is stronger. You can see that in our businesses.”

But it wasn’t strong enough for Penske to keep three Cup cars operating. Mobil One, which was sponsoring Sam Hornish Jr., moved to Tony Stewart’s team. Penske added Shell/Pennzoil and shuffled things around.

Shell becomes the new sponsor for Kurt Busch, who switches car numbers from 2 to 22. Brad Keselowski’s becomes the driver of the Miller Lite No. 2 Dodge.

Hornish, the former Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar Series champ, moves to the Nationwide Series with new sponsor Alliance Truck Parts.

Penske Racing also could benefit from Thursday’s announcement that Robby Gordon Motorsports will run Dodges this season.

Those are the changes most fans will notice immediately, but the reorganization at Penske Racing affects many levels.

“We’ve done things internally to continue to get stronger,” Busch said.

Travis Geisler, who was Hornish’s crew chief, moves to the role of competition director. Geisler, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Vanderbilt, drove in both the ARCA and Nationwide series.

“We’re fortunate to have someone as talented as Travis inside the walls of Penske Racing,” said Michael Nelson, vice president of operations for Penske. “His experience as a crew chief, along with his engineering background, will be a valuable resource.”

Paul Wolfe, who helped lead Keselowski to the Nationwide title last year, gets a much-deserved promotion to Keselowski’s Cup team.

“We’re real proud of what we have here, having nicer stuff and stuff we can win with,” Keselowski said. “Anything is possible because of the progress we have made.”

Keselowski will continue to race full time in two series, but he won’t have a chance to defend his Nationwide title. Those days are gone for full-time Cup drivers with the new rule to declare one series for your title run.

Keselowski was impressive in the feeder league last year, winning six races en route to the championship. But he struggled in his first full Cup season, finishing 25th in the standings with only two top-10s.

Coupled with Hornish’s struggles last season in Cup, it made Busch the only guy left to prove Penske Racing and Dodge could get it done and compete for a Cup title. Busch won twice and made the Chase but finished 11th overall and wasn’t consistent enough to make a serious run at the championship.

He now begins his second season with Steve Addington as the crew chief, which should add stability and familiarity. But Busch also has a new sponsor and a new look with the yellow-and-red Dodge to spice things up.

“We definitely have a charged-up attitude this year,” Busch said last month. “We actually added a new engineer position, so we’re a stronger team with more people coming to the track each week.

“It’s just exciting to have a new look on the car and to have the new number. It will take a little while for all of our fans and everybody to get adjusted to. And then when everybody stops calling me Kevin, we’ll be settled in.”

It’s easy to confuse Busch with Kevin Harvick, who was in the Shell/Pennzoil car and firesuit for years.

Busch won the Cup title in 2004 for Jack Roush in the first year of the Chase. He hasn’t managed to equal the accomplishment for Penske, but Busch believes he’s closer to a second title than he has been in the past.

“Going into my sixth year [at Penske Racing], this is the strongest I have felt going into the season,” Busch said. “We’ve got quite a few things happening here with structural design changes to the chassis, personnel changes and just trying to be as competitive and as sharp as we can be so we start off right.”

Busch started last season strong with two victories and 11 top-10s in the first 18 races to rank fourth in the standings. But he was winless in the second half of the season and posted only two top-10s in the last 11 races. He felt the team got a little too conservative down the stretch.

“We’re proud of the cars we put out there on the track,” Busch said. “But sometimes when things are going well, you think you’ve got to sit there.

“Maybe that’s one thing that hurt us in the second half of last year. You should be continuing to make changes and not get stagnant.”

Penske Racing made plenty of changes in the offseason, so getting stagnant shouldn’t be a problem.

But it will take time to see whether the changes make the team better. Can less become more for Penske Racing? It’s one fewer Cup car, but a few more people in the right places.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, “The Blount Report: NASCAR’s Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks,” was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

[Source: ESPN]

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