Penske Racing Trio Locked into top 35 in Points

March 18, 2008

BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 17, 2008) - Penske Racing drivers Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr. and Ryan Newman finished 12th, 29th, and 33rd respectively in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, as all three Penske teams have secured spots in the top 35 for the NASCAR Cup event in Martinsville in two weeks.  Due to the rain out of qualifying as has been common this year, Busch, driving the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, again came from deep in the starting field in 36th position to post a strong top-15 lead-lap finish.  Hornish Jr. started seventh on the grid in the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge and avoided trouble while battling a tight handling car.  Newman, who had to start from the back of the pack because of an engine change during second practice on Saturday, looked promising as one of the fastest cars of the .533-mile oval, until an incident near the midpoint of the race took Newman out of contention.

Following five NASCAR Cup races, Newman is currently eighth in the 2008 point standings, with Busch ranked 10th and Hornish Jr. 35th.  

"That was all we had here today, so we'll take it and go on," said Busch after the race.  "To have started back in the field like we did, that¿s not all bad. We made our way toward the front from the drop of the green flag and kept a consistent run going. We were on the lead lap during the entire race for a change.  It was a promising run for us."

Busch exercised patience and avoided getting caught up in the five caution periods during the first 200 laps, as he was able to stay on the lead lap and move his way into the top 15.  Busch was able to make it up as far as eighth in the running order before handling issues ended his forward progress.  He fell as far back as 14th before rallying back to finish 12th.

"We just fell back into that cycle that¿s been so common this year of being loose in, tight in the center and loose off (the turns)," said Busch.  "At the end, that was just all we had for them here today.  It should be a decent points day for us and we weathered the storm with us making the points swap. I¿d say that all is well in the Penske camp and all three teams can go forward and look positively toward the remainder of the season."

No. 2 car crew chief Pat Tryson was pleased with his team's performance and was relieved that the fifth race of the year is now in the record books.

"Thank goodness that we'll be back on an even playing field during the next race at Martinsville in two weeks," said Tryson.  "Sam (Hornish) and the 77 team are in the top 35 in the points and will be locked in the field when we get to Martinsville in two weeks, so that is mission-accomplished as far as that goes.  But the points-swapping deal cost us practice time here this weekend and put us in a less-than-ideal spot on pit road during the race.

"But as usual, Kurt drove a smart race and the entire team did a fantastic job," Tryson added.  "When we get to Martinsville, the clock goes back to zero and we'll be back up there again. Kurt and all the No. 2 team members deserve pats on the back for getting through these first five races, keeping it together and staying as strong as we are. We're making some strides with this new car and learning each and every week.  We'll enjoy next weekend off and be ready to take a brand new car on to Martinsville and get back after it."

Hornish Jr., tasked with learning a new track and fighting for valuable owner points, was intent on running a smart race and taking the checkered flag at the end of the day. The talented rookie was focused on running his line and remained on the lead lap until lap 150. Also battling a tight handling car, the Mobil 1 team caught a lucky break when the caution flag flew on lap 191 for a multi-car accident in turn two.

"The right front tire is just about done," radioed Hornish Jr., to his team. "We've picked up a pretty bad vibration so that was a good caution for us."

Hornish Jr. came to pit road for service, and despite continued adjustments, the tight condition persisted. By the mid-point of the race, he was running in the 30th position, two laps down to the leader. Hornish Jr. continued to battle the tight condition on track for the remainder of the race. He finished the Food City 500 in the 29th position, running five laps down to the leader.

"We accomplished what we had to today," said Hornish Jr. "We stayed out of trouble and worked our way back into the top 35 in owner points. After we had tough luck in two of the first five races, it feels good to know that our hard work and determination has gotten us back into the top 35 headed to Martinsville. We just couldn¿t seem to get the adjustments to go in our direction. The race was definitely intense and I was probably bumped more than I bumped others but today was a good day for us overall."

Although the Alltel Dodge Charger battled a tight handling condition, Newman was able to move into the top 10 for the first time by lap 140 of the race. However at lap 190, two cars wrecked while battling for position and Newman was left with no place to go except straight into the five-car wreck.  The altercation left the No. 12 Alltel Dodge with heavy damage to the left rear quarter panel and the left side of the rear bumper, as well as right front-fender damage.

"It was a rough ending for the Alltel Dodge Charger," Newman said after the race. "We had a fast car all day, but just got caught up in a wreck. When you race here you have to have your car in one piece in at the end, but we just had some bad luck in the middle of the race.

"The 26 and the 40 (cars) got crossed-up and turned around," Newman said. "Then the 15 (car) spun in front of me and I had nowhere to go and I hit him. Then I got T-boned - that was pretty much our day."

The NASCAR Cup Series has the week off next week for the Easter holiday. The Penske Racing trio will return to action at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, March 30 for the Goody's Cool Orange 500. The race can be seen on FOX beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET and heard live on MRN Radio.