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Kurt Busch Finishes Seventh In Jeff Byrd 500 At Bristol

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 20, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch battled to a solid seventh-place finish in today’s Jeff Byrd 500 here at Bristol Motor Speedway.  The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s fourth top-10 finish in as many races this season has him in sole possession of the points lead.

“It was a good day for us with our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge,” Busch said after the grueling 500-lap battle had been completed.  “We were in good position early on, riding around in third and could see the leaders.  We pushed our car hard on some of the restarts trying to get up there and lead a lap.  It just didn’t seem we had the mojo to compete.  Those guys were pretty tough today.

“Overall, we had a solid day,” said Busch.  “We couldn’t adjust on the car as the race got past halfway.  That seems to be our struggle.  We had another top 10 which is great.  We’ll take that.  It’s a point-leader type effort.  We just want to get up there and try to win one of these things.  We’ll keep pushing hard.”

Busch started 20th in today’s race and made steady progress toward the front.  He cracked the top 15 on the seventh lap and was up to 10th on Lap 43.  A competition yellow on Lap 50 here today due to the tire situation saw the Steve Addington-led team go with four new Goodyears and Busch fell back to 13th for the restart.

By Lap 87, the “Double Deuce” Dodge was back in the top 10.  He cracked the top five for the first time on Lap 146 and held a top-five position for the next 200 circuits around this .533-mile oval.  The track started rubbering in and Busch had fallen to sixth with 100 laps remaining.

He remained a fixture among the top-10 drivers for the remainder of the race except for a brief period when he overshot his pits on a pit stop (on Lap 430 under the seventh caution period of the race) and fell from sixth to 14th for the restart.  Only 15 laps later, he was back inside the top 10 and continued to gain ground until the final laps of the race.

Although Busch never led a lap here today, he did run as high as second-place on two occasions.  He lined up ninth for the final restart on Lap 464 and clawed his way up to sixth with 15 laps remaining.  A three-car battle for fifth was where the action was on the final two circuits.  Busch was on the high line and trapped behind Paul Menard, while Kevin Harvick made the low lane work to his favor and nipped Busch at the line for the sixth finishing position.

Kyle Busch came home the winner here today, with a 0.946-second victory over runner-up Carl Edwards.  It was his fifth career Cup win here and 20th career victory overall.  Jimmie Johnson finished third, with Matt Kenseth fourth and Menard fifth.  Harvick edged out Kurt Busch for sixth, with Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounding out today’s top-10 finishers.

“We’ve shown some pretty good consistency so far this season and that’s something our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team is very proud of,” crew chief Addington offered.  “If we can keep it up, we’re hopeful that the wins will come our way.  It really feels good to come out of Bristol with the points lead, but we realize that we have to get stronger to stay up there running with these guys every week as the season goes on.”

Kurt Busch entered today’s race tied with Tony Stewart for the points lead, but Stewart’s 19th-place finish today saw him fall to third in the standings.  After four races have been placed into the 2011 record books, Kurt Busch leads the standings with 150 points.  Edwards is second with 149 and Stewart is third with 138.  Newman also has 138 and holds down the fourth spot, with Menard in fifth with 136 points.

Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski fought back from going several laps down early here today and brought his Miller Lite “Blue Deuce” Dodge home in the 18th finishing position.  His finish today moved him up to 21st in the points (with 89 points).

The Sprint Cup tour now heads out to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for next Sunday’s running of the Auto Club 400 on that 2.0-mile track.  This weekend’s Sprint Cup schedule at Auto Club Speedway gets under way with Friday’s practice from 12:00 noon until 1:30 p.m.  Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday’s battle is set for Friday at 4:10 p.m. local (live on SPEED-TV).  Saturday’s action begins with morning practice from 11:30 a.m. till 12:15 p.m.  The final “happy hour” practice session is scheduled from 12:50 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (200 laps, 400 miles) has a scheduled 12:00 noon PDT starting time (3:00 p.m. PDT).  FOX-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.

[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 terry@blountspeak.com.

[Source: ESPN]

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