Ask any Dodge driver or Dodge employee and they'll probably tell you that 2008 was a year that they quickly want to forget. The only high spot coming from a 1-2 finish in the season opening Daytona 500.
Sure, that's a high spot, but when looking at their season as a whole, it wasn't pretty.
No Dodge driver made the season ending twelve race Chase for the Championship, the highest points finish came from Kasey Kahne in 14th. And out of 36 races, a Dodge car only saw victory lane four times.
Ryan Newman in Daytona, Kasey Kahne at Charlotte and Pocono, and Kurt Busch at Loudon when the rain started falling.
No one at Dodge was happy following the 2008 season.
Some organizations even switched to different manufacturers. The single car operation of Robby Gordon went from a Dodge to Toyota and when Chip Ganassi, who runs Dodges, merged with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in the off season, they decided to run the DEI Chevrolet's.
So, the Dodge Company got to work. They developed a new nose that while it doesn't look much different than the old one, is supposed to help for the one and a half-mile and two-mile race tracks that make up most of the Sprint Cup schedule. They also designed a new engine.
Tonight at the Auto Club Speedway, a two-mile track, it looked like they have headed in the right direction.
All Penske Racing cars, the No. 2 of Kurt Busch, the No. 12 of David Stremme and the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr., ran the new engine. Both Busch and Stremme each led laps as well with Busch in contention for the victory all day long.
He started fourth and finished fifth.
While he may not have won, Kurt Busch should have given the Dodge organization some hope. He ran in the top ten the entire day and at one point was able to hang tough with leader Jimmie Johnson who had a very strong car in the beginning of the race.
And it wasn't just this weekend.
Elliott Sadler, driving a Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge, was a half a lap away from winning last weekend's Daytona 500 and he was one of four Dodge's that finished in the top ten Sunday as well.
For two weeks now, Dodge has something to work with.
"This year we have tremendous difference in downforce and balance as well as front end geometry and bump-rubber package," Busch says. "The car still has some evils but today it provided us with a good run that will create a nice benchmark to work off of."
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