1 driver up, 1 down

Penske changes good for Busch, bad for Hornish

April 28, 2010|By Tania Ganguli

One driver's gain could be another's loss at Penske Racing. Despite that, last week's biggest winner in the garage was the Penske organization as a whole.

It didn't win the Sprint Cup race Sunday at Talladega but showed signs of a solid and bright future.

Last week Penske Racing acquired Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship from Richard Childress Racing beginning next season. At the sponsor's request, it will move Kurt Busch to the new car and shift Brad Keselowski to the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

The new sponsorship arrangement enabled the organization to lock in Busch for another five years.

"We started with just a light-hearted sit down at a dinner one night, almost like one of those napkin sketches of, ‘Hey, this is what I'd like to see and this is what might happen,'" Busch said Friday. "Then this opportunity just came up a few weeks ago and changed the whole landscape that we ended up with."

The team's new oil company pushes out its old — ExxonMobil, a sponsor that has a long history with Penske in NASCAR and IndyCar. ExxonMobil's exit could create problems for Sam Hornish Jr., whose contract ends this year.

Roger Penske said Sunday his future plans included Hornish, but he didn't sound convincing.

"We're planning on it," Penske said after Keselowski won Sunday's Nationwide race at Talladega. "… Sam has been with us, he won the Indy 500 with us, he came over here, he has endured and he has run better than his points position."

Though a talented and accomplished IndyCar driver, Hornish has struggled in NASCAR, especially in comparison with fellow open-wheel convert Juan Pablo Montoya. Hornish is currently 28th in points, two below semi-rookie Keselowski and 21 below Busch.

Whatever happens with Penske and Hornish, Penske's NASCAR operation is positioned for long-term success. The organization will capitalize on Keselowski's growth as he rises through the sport. It will continue having strong seasons with Busch and its Nationwide program will develop future talent.

As the lone Dodge team in NASCAR, Penske is poised for success.

That wasn't true two years ago, or at least not so certain.

tganguli@tribune.com

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