By admin | September 2, 2008
By Richard Allen
It was not so long ago that Penske Racing South could be counted as a contender at virtually every stop on the NASCAR circuit. However, something seems amiss with the team owned by one of the most powerful men in the business world today, Roger Penske.
Everything seemed to be going quite well at the beginning of 2008. As a matter of fact it would be difficult to imagine a better start to a season. Ryan Newman wheeled his Penske Racing Dodge around Tony Stewart on the last lap to give Penske his first win in the Daytona 500. To add to the good fortune, Newman received a push from teammate Kurt Busch to get the win. Busch finished second to give the team an impressive sweep.
However, after that tremendous start, the news has not been so good for Penske. Granted, Busch did win the rain shortened event in New Hampshire back in June, but other than that there has been little to cheer about.
None of Penskeâ€™s three cars will make the Chase for the Championship this year. Newman has only been able to manage two Top 5s and 8 Top 10s in 2008. Busch has three Top 5s and only five Top 10s. Rookie Sam Hornish has not had a single Top 10 finish and has been dangerously close to falling out of the Top 35 for much of the season.
Indicative of just how far the teamâ€™s performance has dropped off, Newman will be leaving the only team he has ever driven for at the end of the current season to drive for what is essentially a start up team.
Newman had stated earlier in the year that he would not re-sign with Penske until he saw a marked improvement in the performance of his #12 car. That improvement never seemed to come so Newman signed with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Also, Busch was obviously not happy with his team during the running of the Pepsi 500 in California. After a bump with Martin Truex which resulted in a cut tire and a spin for the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, Busch was heard to say over his radio, â€œTell the #1 car weâ€™re sorry but we have no idea what weâ€™re doing at Penske Racing.â€
Later, under a caution period Busch was told he could not pit the first time the pits were open and that he would have to go around and pit with the other lapped cars the next time around. Busch responded, â€œIâ€™m used to that.â€
Busch is signed through 2009. Given Buschâ€™s apparent lack of satisfaction with the performance of the #2 car it will be interesting to see if he issues a Newman type ultimatum before he re-signs, or moves on.
Penske, often referred to as â€œThe Captainâ€, has won 59 Sprint Cup races as a car owner. However, only five of those wins have come since 2005. Since that time, only Busch in 2007 has qualified for the Chase for the Championship.
The end of the 2005 season seemed to be a turning point for Penske Racing South. Long time driver Rusty Wallace, who accounted for 37 of Penskeâ€™s wins, retired. Also, both Wallace and Penske business partner Don Miller had their stakes in the company bought out at that time.
Penske has won 14 Indianapolis 500s and that form of auto racing is where he seems to place the bulk of his efforts. The loss of Miler, who finally retired in 2007, as the guiding force for the stock car operation may have dealt a crucial blow to this organization.
Although 2008 started off in grand style for â€œThe Captainâ€ the waters have definitely become rougher. To have one driver abandon ship for an unproven team and another to be so harshly critical can not bode well for the future.
Roger Penske has proven himself to be one of the great leaders in the business world and the racing world. We will soon see if he can right this ship.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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