Nov 13, 2007
Penske Racing led the Dodge contingent in Sunday’s Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway with Ryan Newman finishing fifth and Kurt Busch placing 12th. Sam Hornish Jr. took 30th in his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup debut.
Newman’s second straight top-five finish and his seventh this season moved him up one position in the point standings to 13th with one race remaining in the season. He is now 58 points ahead of the 14th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“The Alltel Dodge was pretty good, “ said Newman, who led once for four laps after starting 13th in the 312-lap race on the 1-mile track. “We knew we were good enough to get track position with the disadvantage; with two tires or with fuel only, and that was OK. I wasn’t mad about that, but I wish we just had that extra little speed so we could get on everyone else’s strategy. You know, being able to take two tires when everybody takes two, or take four when they take four. We’re getting closer to that. It’s just a matter of time. “
Newman consistently ran in the top 10 throughout the race after gaining track position with a two-tire stop during the first of 10 caution flags. That strategy enabled Newman to gain 11 positions, placing him in second when the race restarted on lap 29.
The Alltel crew gave Newman the lead on lap 236 with a quick pit stop during the eighth caution period. However, when the race restarted, Newman couldn’t hold off the charging Matt Kenseth, who was on fresh tires. Newman, however, never dropped lower than sixth in the final 70 laps.
“To have a top-five finish is great, “ Newman said. “To build on another top-five finish, that’s two in a row, that’s really great. I don’t know if we’ve done that all year. “
Meanwhile, Busch found himself battling a “wicked handling” Miller Lite Dodge Avenger throughout the race. His 12th-place finish also dropped him a position in the standings, leaving him 10th with one race remaining. However, he is only 47 points behind the seventh-place Kevin Harvick.
“It was pretty wicked handling for him much of the day, “ crew chief Pat Tryson said about the car that Busch qualified ninth. “We kept making some pretty big adjustments throughout the race. It wasn’t the super day we were looking for out here, but it was a good learning experience. It’s evident that we have a little catching up to do with our Miller Lite Dodge Avenger and we’re already focusing on doing all we can during the off-season to be really prepared with this car when the 2008 season kicks off next February in Daytona. “
Despite the handling problems, Busch still felt he had a “good run” in his Miller Lite Dodge.
“It was just a little too tight in one spot and a little too loose in another spot, “ Busch added. “So, all-in-all, we’ll chalk it up as a year of experience with the COTs. We have some more work to do. “
Hornish’s goals were to not cause problems for his teammates and the top two in the point standings, complete as many laps as possible, and finish in the top 30. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner achieved all of his objectives.
“I still have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the challenge. We’ll keep working our way at it and continue to get better. I’ll go into Miami with one race under my belt - a little bit less of a rookie, I guess, “ said Hornish, who will attempt another double-duty weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.
“I’m a bit rusty as far as racing goes lately. It’s been about two months since I’ve run this long of a race and that was probably the longest I’ve run in the COT car. But I was pretty happy with the car, especially at the end. We started out tight and got a pretty long run there at the beginning where we lost a lap, but we eventually got to where the car needed to be. “
Although Hornish was two laps down at the event’s co nclusion, 310 laps allowed him to begin to define the physical differences and challenges between the Indy Car and COT car.
“If you’re running one or two laps, the Indy Car is definitely a lot more physical, “ Hornish explained. “But this is very demanding because the temperature that you face inside the car and the amount of footwork that goes into it. Plus, you have 42 other cars so there’s nowhere to really relax. I didn’t even find my rhythm to where I was able to try new lines until about the last five laps. The rest of the time, I was in traffic, right at the edge of my seat. The physical effort of racing these cars is very demanding. It’s like racing in a sauna. With all the heat, I think I drank about 10 bottles of water throughout the day and I still think I’m dehydrated. “
Wednesday, November 14, 2007