Penske looking for 1st California win since 2001After 14 victories in the Indianapolis 500, team owner Roger Penske finally picked up his first win
By: By CHARLES KRALL/Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, The Daily Telegram
After 14 victories in the Indianapolis 500, team owner Roger Penske finally picked up his first win at the House that France Built — Daytona International Speedway.
Now, Penske wants to end another drought by winning his first race since 2001 at the track he built — California Speedway in Fontana, site of Sunday’s Auto Club 500 Sprint Cup race.
Ryan Newman and his “best teammate ever,” Kurt Busch, gave Penske a 1-2 finish last Sunday in the Daytona 500. Newman hasn’t had a top-10 finish at California since 2005, but Busch has started from the pole in three of the past four Cup races at California since he began racing for Penske in 2006.
“We’ve always run well at California, we just haven’t gotten to victory lane,” Newman said.
Penske has a long racing history on the West Coast. He was a successful sports car driver and collected wins at the now closed Riverside International Raceway before becoming a powerhouse owner. In 1973, Mark Donohue scored Penske’s first Cup Series win, at Riverside, and added two more over the next two years at the winding Riverside road course and Ontario Motor Speedway.
When both of those facilities were shuttered in the 1980s, Penske filled the void and built California Speedway. The track opened in 1997 and has been a part of the NASCAR schedule since. It since has been acquired by International Speedway Corp., which is controlled by the France family.
His boss may have built the track, but California Speedway has been less than kind to Newman. In 10 career starts, he has an average finish of 19.5. His driver rating over the past three Cup races at California is 75.6, 17th best. Matt Kenseth tops the series at 113.9. A perfect rating is 150.0.
“We have a pole there and three top 10s. I think we learned a lot in our test there earlier this year, so I expect to be very competitive,” Newman said. “We accomplished our first goal by winning the Daytona 500, now we have to look ahead to our ultimate goal and that is making the Chase and winning the Cup championship.”
Crew chief Roy McCauley agrees. He has been busy preparing Newman’s No. 12 Dodge for California. Daytona is history.
“Not to take anything away from Daytona,” McCauley said, “but California pays just as many points as winning the Daytona 500 did. We were back in the shop working after the champion’s breakfast on Monday morning.”
Besides his three poles, Busch won the 2003 race at Fontana driving for Roush Fenway Racing. In 11 California starts, he has failed to complete only two laps.
For Penske Racing to repeat its success from Daytona, it must outperform Kenseth and his Roush teammates. Kenseth is the two-time defending champion of the Auto Club 500, and he swept the Cup and Nationwide Series races last February. Roush has five Cup victories at the track.
A disappointing 36th-place place finish at Daytona following a crash with teammate David Ragan has Kenseth determined to make it three in a row in Fontana.
“I never thought we’d win two years in a row, but I always feel pretty confident going to California,” Kenseth said. “It’s been one of our better tracks throughout our time in the Nationwide Series and in the Cup Series, so it’s one I certainly look forward to. You look forward to trying to go get some momentum back after a disappointing Daytona 500, so, hopefully, it’ll be all right.”