With the 2010 NASCAR season just around the corner, there are some changes that will take some time getting used to.
Changes that some of us are looking forward to and, of course, the ones that will not sit well, whether it was a favorite sponsor going to a rival team or NASCAR changing the rules once again.
These are just a couple of examples because as vast as the sport is, there are other categories that can easily be touched on that will have the same effect.
Before the teams take the green flag for the season opening Daytona 500 on February 14, there will be one significant change that probably won’t go unnoticed, which involves one the most historic manufacturers in the sport.
Roger Penske, along with his cast of drivers, will be the last Dodge team standing once the NASCAR series enters the hallowed grounds of Daytona International Speedway to kickoff the new decade in February.
Gone is Ganassi Racing, who left Dodge after the 2008 season to merge with D.E.I., becoming part of the bow tie brigade for the 2009 season.
The only Dodge teams that were left after the dust settled were Richard Petty Motorsports and Penske Racing during the 2009 campaign.
Between the two teams, they were able to each put a driver in the chase along with those same two drivers picking up two wins apiece during the season.
Kurt Busch, who had his best season in 2009 with Penske Racing, subsequently joined the team in 2006 after coming from Roush Fenway Racing, where he won a championship in 2004.
Busch was involved in a wreck to start out the 2009 season along with his brother Kyle and seven other drivers when Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the back of Brian Vickers after Vickers tried blocking Earnhardt who were both a lap down.
Busch rebounded the following week at Auto Club Speedway finishing fifth and would eventually finish fourth in the final point standings while driving the No. 2 Miller Lite sponsored Dodge Charger for Penske Motorsports.
Busch also picked up one of his two wins at Atlanta on March 8 and the other during the chase at Texas on November 8 while finishing out the season with 10 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes.
Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Budweiser sponsored Dodge, won his first race of season after a hard fought battle with Stewart Haas Racing driver and owner Tony Stewart at Infineon Raceway after four, late double-file restarts.
The victory was Kahne’s first ever road course win, along with breaking a 10-year winless drought for Petty, whose team hadn’t visited victory lane since 1999.
Kahne’s second win came after beating Kevin Harvick with 11 laps, who was battling a losing streak of his own, at Atlanta during Labor Day weekend. RPM will no longer race the Dodge Charger but instead has merged with Yates Racing, who carries Ford as their manufacturer with the Fusion.
So without any outside help from his counterparts, Penske Racing will be the one and only organization that will have the honor of carrying the Dodge logo this next season.
Dodge, which has not won a championship since 1975 when Richard Petty won his sixth NASCAR Cup Championship, will be putting all of their resources into one organization in hopes of adding another championship to the four that they already have.
Just how well a four car operation can battle against the dominating power that Chevy has been demonstrating for the past seven years will be a huge task that even the other manufacturers have had trouble trying to win against.
Even though Penske replaced the weakest link in his chain of drivers when he let go of David Stremme after signing Brad Keselowski to a three-year deal in the middle of the 2009 season.
Keselowski still comes over with a lot of doubt that he can get the job done and even though he was the hottest prospect coming out of the Nationwide series, not even his one win in the Cup Series is enough to solidify him as a threat to help keep team Penske afloat.
Sam Hornish Jr., who had his best season in 2009 after coming over to Penske in 2007, ran his first full season in the Cup Series in 2008 in the No.77 Mobil One-sponsored Dodge Charger.
Hornish showed signs of improvement during the 2009 campaign with two top-five and seven top-10 finishes while keeping his team within the top 35 in points, to ensure himself starting spots in the first five races when the 2010 season begins.
Hornish came over from Penske’s IRL team after becoming the first driver to win three championships in the series along with his one and only Indianapolis 500 win back in 2006.
Penske will definitely have his back against the wall once the season gets underway, and it will be up to his three drivers to carry the weight along with the fate of Dodge’s future in the NASCAR series.
Just how well they can perform under all the pressure that will be upon their shoulders will be one of the key factors of just how successful a season they will have.
How well the R6P8 engine performs along with its durability throughout the grueling 36-week schedule will also play a major role.
Penske is known as an owner who accepts all challenges, without the slightest shadow of a doubt that his team can be competitive.
Now looking at Dodge’s track record from a much broader view, it might be safe to say that Penske probably bit off more than he can chew.
Only in Hollywood does the last man standing ever walk away the victor, and unfortunately, NASCAR is not a sport that is scripted, and along with it comes very few fairy tale endings.
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