Power has the points advantage, but Ganassi's troops are threatening. (LAT photo)
It continues to be a busy summer for everyone at Penske Racing. As you probably know, circumstances have put the team in the media spotlight in both the IZOD IndyCar Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series, while we're still in a good position in the NASCAR Cup Series where Kurt Busch is ranked 10th with just a few races remaining prior to the Chase.
Leading up to the Chase is always interesting. It is a fine balance between preparing for the Chase and continuing to focus on improving the on-track performance of the cars that aren't in contention for the championship. To ensure Kurt has the best possible equipment for the Chase, we will typically take more risks with the cars of Brad Keselowski (No. 12) and Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77), but they will also be the ones who may see the initial benefit. Over the next couple of races, I'm sure we will implement programs that will accelerate the developments that we've been testing – particularly in the engine – so that Kurt will have proven equipment for the final 10 races. Obviously you can't afford a DNF once you're in the Chase and expect to have a chance at the championship. Setup-wise, the drivers will probably continue as usual because there is so little track time and it is important not to have too many “science projects” while trying to get results.
For Brad and Sam, I'm sure they will be focusing on getting better each week while trying to build on their successes so far this season. If you try and hit home runs, a lot of times you end up striking out completely. We want them to end the season with positive momentum. When you're going back to tracks you've already raced this year, you try to achieve better results than when you went there previously – something to show you're going in the right direction.
The sponsorship quest for the No. 77 car continues and I can't say we have made much progress from when I wrote my last blog in June. I think it's one of those things that will come down to the wire but we certainly haven't given up and sometimes things happen when you least expect it in this business. With regard to the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year, we anticipate running two full-season entries again. It will be a challenge as we will be building a whole new fleet of cars to the new Nationwide CoT spec, but when they look and run as good as the new Challenger, it isn't too tough to be motivated!
Dodge continues to work with our engine shop to improve our engines and I'm confident you'll see Penske Racing get stronger as the Chase gets closer. Of course, you always wish you would have more than one car in the hunt – as a team, our odds are less than say Hendrick or JGR – but I think Kurt and his crew chief Steve Addington have what it takes with the group they have and I would say we have as strong a chance as anyone. It would be nice to get a couple more really strong results, and maybe a win or two, before Richmond (the last race before the Chase) so that we're able to be aggressive rather than relying on the outcome of that race to determine our fate. That's a difficult event to get through cleanly, and it's never fun to just sit there with your fingers crossed.
Brad currently has more than a 300-point advantage in the Nationwide Series and lately he's been able to gain some respect with his road racing abilities with fourth-place finishes at Road America and Watkins Glen. It really comes down to him continuing to improve his craft as a driver during test sessions, while being patient during the races as things play out. It's a similar situation to Kurt – his background wasn't road racing, yet he was determined to learn what it takes to succeed. Ryan Briscoe has even gone with our guys during a few road course tests with the Nationwide and the Cup Series cars. Ryan provides some more data and helps out the stock car guys whenever possible while also learning a few things about driving something that weighs about twice what he is used to.