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Busch Looking to Find Competitive Rhythm at Phoenix

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Daytona

AVONDALE, Ariz. (Feb. 22, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch had just returned to his team transporter on Sunday afternoon after visiting Victory Lane to congratulate longtime friends on the Daytona 500-winning Wood Brothers racing team. Still miffed for making the wrong move on the final lap of Sunday’s edition of the “Great American Race” which he felt cost him a sure win, he was consoled by team owner Roger Penske and Penske Senior Vice President Bud Denker.

Busch, who was going for history on Sunday, attempting to be the first driver to ever sweep all three NASCAR Sprint Cup races during a single Speed Weeks, emerged from the meeting with a smile and a great big-picture perspective.

“I realize that our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team had a tremendous Daytona Speed Weeks and we all are coming out of here with our heads held high,” Busch said back in the drivers’ motorcoach lot after finishing fifth in his 11th attempt at winning the Daytona 500. “Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys were all just incredible the whole time we have been in Daytona. Our Penske Racing Team certainly did their homework during the off-season and it paid big dividends. My hat goes off to everyone in the body shop, to the guys over in the engine department, our engineering group and all the support crew.

“We really wanted to claim that big chunk of racing history, but we came up just a little short,” said Busch, who finally cracked into the winner’s column in restrictor-plate competition but left Daytona still looking for his first points-paying plate race win after 41 career attempts. “Speed Weeks 2011 was huge for us and just a super way of kicking off our relationship with Shell-Pennzoil, Coca-Cola and all the great sponsors we have supporting our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team.

“We’ve had a lot of success and fun at Daytona this time around, but like I told them, ‘the real season starts right now,'” said Busch, who left Daytona fourth in the Sprint Cup points after the first of 36 races has been put into the record books. “It’s kind of like a football team starting off with two wins and a tie going into a new season. We’ve tasted success, but there could have been even more.

“The important thing is that we didn’t leave Daytona in a hole like we have several times before,” said Busch, whose fifth-place finish Sunday upped his overall Daytona career Sprint Cup record to 10 top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 races. “Now we need to get into a good competitive rhythm, build on the momentum and have another great weekend coming up at Phoenix . Then we can head into (Las) Vegas and on to Bristol , Fontana and Martinsville with a full head of steam.”

Busch, Addington and the “Double-Deuce” Dodge Team certainly have started to lay a sound foundation for a solid 2011 season with their Daytona performance. It’s the best start the 2004 series champion has enjoyed since finishing second in the 2008 Daytona 500, a race where he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to the win. His fifth-place finish last Sunday marks only the second time since he joined Penske Racing back in 2006 that he left Daytona in the top-five in the point standings.

“Kurt is right – it’s full steam ahead for our Shell-Pennzoil ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge Team,” said Addington on Monday afternoon. “Daytona was a great two weeks for us, but our focus has turned totally on getting ready for Phoenix this week, Vegas the next and all the races on down the line. What’s really cool is that unlike last year when we tore up a lot of cars at Daytona, we came out of there totally unscathed. We should be in great shape for Talladega and when we head back to Daytona for the July race.

“Yeah, the big-picture situation is already our primary focus now,” said Addington, who has served as Busch’s team leader for only 37 points-paying races now, yet enjoys one of the most solid driver/crew chief relationships in the sport. “We’re testing at Gresham ( Motorsports Park , a half-mile asphalt track near Jefferson , Ga. ) this week and we’re looking to head out to Phoenix and keep the ball rolling. Kurt really loves that track and I do, too.

“We’re excited about starting off the year like we have and look to build on the success week after week,” said Addington. “We have a great group of guys on our ‘Double-Deuce’ Dodge team and -just like Kurt — we are all dedicated to do what it takes to be right there challenging for the championship at the end of the season.”

Busch has visited Victory Lane before at Phoenix as he won the April 2005 race, the first night race on the track when the second event per season there was added to the schedule. Busch’s overall career record at PIR boasts one win, four top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 16 career starts. He has a 13.6 average start and a 13.2 average finish. He has a 99.7% lap completion average (5,045 of 5,062 laps) and has led a total of 660 laps. He has been running at the finish in all 16 races and running on the lead lap in 12 or the races.

“Phoenix will always be a special track for me and it’s almost like a homecoming each and every time we race there,” said Busch who first visited the “Desert Mile” as a 13-year-old fan who later raced on the track in late model competition before speeding through the ranks in NASCAR Racing. “So much has changed at the track through the years, with them building the tunnel into the infield and adding all those thousands of seats. But it’s still the same old PIR as for it being the demanding one-mile flat track that I love racing on and the same old PIR that holds so many special memories for me personally.

Phoenix Sprint Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 12:30 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. till 5:25 p.m. Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field. Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 (312-lap, 312-mile, 500 kilometer) race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.

[Source: Penskeracing.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 [email protected]

[Source: ESPN]

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General

Shell Signs Multi-Series Sponsorship Deal with Penske Racing

Shell signs multi-series sponsorship deal with Penske Racing – Penske Social

For years Marlboro has been nearly synonymous with Penske, its racing cars (in open-wheels especially) adorned with the tobacco company’s red-and-white color scheme for decades, even if their name hasn’t appeared on the cars since 2005. But after 19 years in racing together, Marlboro parent company Phillip Morris ended its sponsorship of the motor racing dynasty earlier this year. Now it appears that Shell Oil could be taking its place.

The deal, which comes into effect next season, encompasses Penske Racing teams in several series, including the Indy Racing League and both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series in NASCAR, but does not appear to extend to Penske’s American Le Mans Series team.

In the Sprint Cup, the Shell deal comes at the expense of Richard Childress Racing (pictured above), which brought in Shell to replace Jack Daniels sponsorship which it lost last year. The Shell and Pennzoil logos will instead adorn the #22 car of Penske’s former champion Kurt Busch, while teammate Brad Keselowski’s #2 Dodge will continue with Miller Lite sponsorship. In Indy, meanwhile, the sponsorship replaces Penske’s longstanding deal with ExxonMobil.

[Source: Autosport]

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