Commentary

Penske, Dodge still a good fit

Updated: March 23, 2010, 3:10 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Kurt BuschAP Photo/Eric JamisonKurt Busch and the rest of the Penske Racing team have had reason to smile so far this season.

One team, all in. Maybe Roger Penske and Dodge are onto something here.

Five races into the 2010 season, Dodge's one-team operation with Penske Racing is working out just fine.

Kurt Busch won at Atlanta and came darn close to making it two in a row on Sunday at Bristol before finishing third. Despite his airborne moment at Atlanta, Brad Keselowski has raced near the front in the last two events. Sam Hornish Jr. is safely inside the top 35.

And Penske also is getting it done down on the farm, with Justin Allgaier and Keselowski finishing 1-2, respectively, in the Bristol Nationwide Series race last weekend.

Kyle Busch, the defending Nationwide champ, was impressed.

"How strong were the Penske cars? They were the class of the field," Busch said after Saturday's race. "I have to say congratulations to Justin. He deserved it."

Before the season started, some people viewed Dodge's participation in NASCAR as hanging on by a thread. Now it looks as if Dodge and Penske are stronger than before.

"I don't feel that I'm at a disadvantage," Penske said Saturday at Bristol. "I think that we're at an advantage, quite honestly."

Few people thought an auto manufacturer could make it work in NASCAR's top series with only one major organization under its banner.

Chevy has Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Toyota has Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Red Bull and Michael Waltrip Racing. And Ford has Roush Fenway Racing and now Richard Petty Motorsports. RPM left Dodge after last season.

That meant Dodge had only one three-car team at Penske. It appeared to be David versus the three Goliaths. Appearances can be deceiving.

Dodge has focused all its attention and funneled all its resources to Penske's operation. There's no favored team; it's the only team.

"Certainly our Dodge folks stepped up," Penske said. "They're doing everything they can to help us from an aerodynamic standpoint, engine-development standpoint, supporting our drivers, and it's great for the brand.

"They're only sponsoring one team, and to have them supporting us the way that they are is just amazing when you think about what's going on in the world. I think we're in the best spot."

This wouldn't work with just one car, but Penske said he believes they get enough data from three cars to keep the research and development evolving and moving forward.

Kurt Busch said last weekend that it feels good to "quiet some of the critics, knowing that we were going to be the only Dodge team out there."

Busch and the No. 2 Dodge were the best team last year that wasn't a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, finishing fourth in the standings behind the Hendrick trio of Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.

Not having another Dodge organization with which to share information hasn't hindered the No. 2 team at all. And hiring Steve Addington as crew chief was a brilliant move.

But it's only five races. Now we'll see a big test for the lone wolves of the Penske Dodges. The other manufacturers probably will pool data on the switch to the rear spoiler beginning this week at Martinsville. Penske will have to figure it out with his three-car stable.

"I think the way that the rules are now, NASCAR has tried to have a level playing field," Penske said. "I think the way that we have the tightness on templates, the cars are all pretty much the same aerodynamically. We've made a big step forward with Dodge helping us. This has been terrific for us."

Maybe having only one major team isn't so bad after all.

***

Dale Earnhardt Jr. let his temper show a few times on his radio Sunday at Bristol, but he was right to be angry after he was caught speeding entering pit road. Here's his point, taking out the expletives:

"If they want to correctly gauge the pit-road speed, they need to get the kind of system that can do it for every car on the track, not just depending on what [pit] stall you're in.

"Because it [hurt] me. It probably did the same thing to the 47 [Marcos Ambrose, who was penalized twice]. Everybody behind us, before that timing line, can do all the [speeding] they want getting into their stall. Getting busted when I didn't gain nothing on nobody, it's not the way it should be. There should be a different way to do it."

There is. It's called a speedometer, which these cars don't have.

Here's the odd thing about it: NASCAR officials are measuring speed. Drivers are measuring RPMs on a tachometer. Shouldn't the enforcer and the accused culprit be looking at the same thing?

***

It's time keep the legends out of the race cars. Larry Pearson is lucky to be alive today after being T-boned by Charlie Glotzbach's car in the legends race at Bristol on Saturday.

Pearson suffered multiple fractures in the accident. Both drivers were hospitalized.

Most of these guys haven't been in a race car in years, and some of them, like Glotzbach, are in their seventh decade on the planet.

It may be entertaining for the fans, but it isn't worth the risk for old guys trying to turn back the clock.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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