Penske in rebuilding mode for 2009
Penske Racing has been a fixture in the NASCAR Cup series as a full-time contender since 1991 and has fielded some of the top competitors in the sport.
In 2008, however, the organization certainly did not live up to its expectations. Although Penske won two races, its teams struggled to get a handle on NASCAR's new model Cup car and the Dodge nose, which team members believed put them at a disadvantage to the competition. The organization also worked with a developing new engine, endured its fair share of on-track setbacks and lost Ryan Newman to the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing team.
Numbers tell the story
"I feel like we're just as competitive at 40 percent of the tracks as the other teams; we just need to get better at the mile-and-a-halfs."
To do that, the team has researched a variety of elements within the car. Busch, though, points out that it's not just an engineering issue.
Busch brought seven successful years of full-time Cup experience into 2008, including 17 wins and a Cup championship, which he won with the team now known as Roush Fenway Racing. Tryson, 44, began his crew chief career in 1997.
The two had a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience going for them, but Busch thinks now that their history may have worked against them as well.
"We learn so much week to week, from May to July, that it was hard to go back over the notes that we had from the previous year's experience, so that hurt us on some of the races," he says. "A champion driver and a veteran crew chief, it was hard for us to have that fresh outlook and have that fresh notebook feel."
That was all that Hornish had, however. An open-wheel transfer, he entered 2008 as a member of a heralded rookie class, but he left it outside the top 35 in owner points and thus will need to race his way into the opening five races this season on his qualifying speed.
Hornish didn't expect his transition to be easy. He says he spent team meetings speaking only about what his car felt like, not what he thought should be done to remedy the problem. "In some ways, I'm still learning exactly what I want out of the car and how to tell them to make it any better," he says. "That's going to be a big learning process."
But Hornish thinks improvements are possible. So does Penske as the team enters the year with a past champion and two fairly untested drivers. Stremme drove two full Cup seasons for Chip Ganassi Racing, but the 31-year-old skipped last Cup season to compete in the Nationwide ranks and test cars for Penske.
According to those around him, Stremme is entering a Penske crew prepared to be more competitive this season. The organization has spent the offseason trying to get a handle on this car and finding ways to improve it.