It was an up-and-down season for Penske Racing and that doesn't even include Brad Keselowski's literal upside-down ride at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The three-car Sprint Cup stable enjoyed a few moments of success during the course of the 2010 campaign but ultimately ended up falling far short of its preseason expectations.
Those ambitions were high at the beginning of the year when veteran crew chief Steve Addington came on board to work with Kurt Busch in the team's flagship Miller Lite No. 2 entry. Addington traded in one Busch brother for another in the move, leaving Kyle in his days with Joe Gibbs Racing to partner with older brother Kurt.
|Kurt Busch hopes to be a threat for Penske in 2011. (Getty Images)|
That intermediate track prowess was again on display when NASCAR invaded Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual May back-to-back weekends. Busch and the Blue Deuce were virtually unstoppable at the 1.5-mile track and scored victories in both the Sprint All-Star Race as well as the Coca-Cola 600.
"It's been a dream come true," said Busch after his victory in the longest race of the year. "It's a prestigious race, it's a tough race, and most of all it's a team race."
However, once the calendar turned from May, things did not go as well for Busch and Addington.
Although he was able to qualify for the Chase, a string of poor runs coupled with mechanical gremlins doomed Busch and he finished the season 11th in the standings, a whopping 480 points behind champ Jimmie Johnson.
"We just didn't have what we needed to during the Chase and could not mount a challenge for the title," Busch said. "Sure it's disappointing but hopefully we've learned some things that will help us in 2011."
Keselowski is also hoping to put into play lessons learned from this past season that will lead to a successful 2011.
His celebrated duel with Carl Edwards that exploded in Atlanta and carried over throughout much of the year was a major focal point of the entire season.
After tangling earlier in the March Atlanta visit, an obviously disgruntled Edwards came back on the track with a battered racecar more than 160 laps off the pace to settle a score with Keselowski. Edwards made impact as the duo raced down the main straightaway, sending Keselowski's car sideways and then into the air before finally landing on its roof into the outside retaining wall.
NASCAR, as part of its "Boys Have at It" policy, put both drivers on three-race probation but no other fines and penalties were assessed.
|2010 season stats|
|Wins: 2 (36 starts)|
|Top 5s: 9|
|Top 10s: 17|
|Sam Hornish Jr.|
|Wins: 0 (36 starts)|
|Top 5s: 0|
|Top 10s: 1|
|Wins: 0 (36 starts)|
|Top 5s: 0|
|Top 10s: 2|
The two were once again involved in an even bigger melee during the July Gateway International Raceway Nationwide Series race, with Edwards turning Keselowski on the main straight in a race to the checkered flag. It ended in a violent crash that swept up nearly a dozen cars.
Edwards kept the win but was assessed a 60-point penalty while both drivers were put on probation until the end of the season.
There were no additional issues between the two, although Keselowski was involved in incidents with other drivers, furthering his reputation as one of the sport's "bad boys."
"I'm not that worried about how others see my reputation and more concerned about being raced with respect, just the same kind of respect I try to give others," said Keselowski. "I'm an aggressive driver and won't change that style, it's been the way I've driven since I first started racing."
Although he won the Nationwide Series title to give Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship, Keselowski's Sprint Cup tally was dismal with only a pair of top 10 finishes to show for an effort that ended with a 25th-place position in the final standings.
While Keselowski will have an opportunity to improve next year, teammate Sam Hornish Jr. does not. A lack of sponsorship will relegate Hornish to perhaps only a handful of Sprint Cup starts and perhaps a full Nationwide Series season.
Hornish wound up 29th in the final Sprint Cup rundown in 2010 with a single top 10 finish to show for the effort. Hornish nearly stole a win at Pocono in June, when he had the lead on pit strategy as a thunderstorm hit the track. But the rains subsided and NASCAR was able to finish the race, robbing Hornish of a potential weather-shortened victory.
In addition to shrinking from a three- to a two-car effort for 2011, there will be a new look for Penske Racing in the coming season.
Busch will campaign a No. 22 Dodge with the colors of new sponsor Shell/Pennzoil, ending his run behind the wheel of the iconic No. 2.
"Yeah, it's been a great run," said Busch, who will work again with Addington as his crew chief. "It's tough to see it come to an end, driving the Blue Deuce. It's been a privilege to drive the car and carry on the legacy that Rusty Wallace started. Just when I started to feel comfortable in his shoes that he left me, we had to make a change."
Busch is still optimistic about what can be accomplished next season but understands the team will need to work harder to become more competitive.
"We hope that we find the right tools necessary to find the speed that we need," Busch said. "Yeah, we're competitive, but we need to be better. Right now, it's just a process of working around the clock to find different chassis designs, chassis setups and aerodynamic changes. You name it; we're searching high and low.
|Team review/preview series|
|Dec. 8||JTG Daugherty||Dec. 22||Stewart-Haas|
|Dec. 10||Red Bull||Dec. 23||Roush Fenway|
|Dec. 13||Petty||Dec. 27||Childress|
|Dec. 15||Waltrip||Dec. 29||Gibbs|
|Dec. 17||Earnhardt-Ganassi||Dec. 31||Hendrick|
Keselowski will inherit the Miller Lite colors and looks for better results on the Cup side as he pairs with Nationwide title-winning crew chief Paul Wolfe.
"We've had our high points and a few low points this year, but we made progress," Keselowski said. "We're already looking forward to next year."
Penske Racing will remain the only Dodge team in the Sprint Cup Series next year, which continues to be a double-edged sword. On the positive side of the equation is the fact that the Penske group receives every bit of the manufacturer's support in terms of financial backing and equipment. However, without any other Dodge teams to share information and data with, Penske trails Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota competitors who enjoy the benefit of those additional resources.
The streamlined two-car stable will allow Penske to focus on getting both Busch and Keselowski running better and not spread the organization too thin. The-less-is-more approach could produce better results.
Busch will again contend for a Chase berth but won't be a serious factor for the title unless more consistency can be found. Keselowski also needs to take a page out of the consistency handbook and while a possible second career Sprint Cup win is not out of the question, a spot in the Chase field seems unlikely unless major performance improvements are made.