Sunday, September 16, 2007
Hornish's qualifying misstep doesn't discourage Penske
By David Newton, Marty Smith and K. Lee Davis
LOUDON, N.H. -- Roger Penske said he wouldn't be putting so much effort, time and money with Sam Hornish Jr. in a Nextel Cup car if he didn't plan to run him full time next season.
"That's obvious," Penske said before Sunday's race at New Hampshire International Speedway. "But on the other hand, we don't have to be in a position that's all or nothing.
"That doesn't mean that he doesn't have to focus 100 percent of his efforts, and that's what he's doing."
The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner had hoped to be in Sunday's race, but failed to qualify a third Penske Racing car that is outside the top 35 in owners' points.
"He practiced well," said Penske, reminding Hornish was 20th fastest in practice. "We were sure disappointed he didn't make it, but we didn't make the Indy 500 in 1995 and we're still here."
Penske said Hornish simply was too conservative in qualifying.
"The discussion with him was don't overdrive it in qualifying and he probably didn't realize he's going to have to overdrive to get in," he said. "That's part of the learning curve."
Hornish will drive in five to six more races, including the remaining four Car of Tomorrow events.
"That way we can make a decision," Penske said. "He can make a personal decision about what he wants to do. Then we'll make a move. The good news is we have some flexibility."
George Gillett Jr., the majority owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports, isn't the only person pursuing a partnership with Petty Enterprises.
Robbie Loomis, the vice president of racing operations at Petty Enterprises, said there are four potential investors interested in NASCAR's most storied organization.
"There's some days I'm for sure we're going to do something," Loomis said. "Then there's other days I'm, 'Dang. Are we going to get there?'"
Petty Enterprises already purchases engines from GEM and has had discussions about sharing chassis. Loomis said that would be a natural fit if it could work, but he put no timetable on it.
"We do have a great relationship with Ray," he said of minority owner Ray Evernham. "What I like about Ray himself is he's a winner."
-- David Newton
Sources: Kahne may wear blue, too
The fact Kasey Kahne will drive a Budweiser-sponsored Dodge in 2008 is old news. What's interesting is that the No. 9 won't be red in every race.
In fact, sometimes it may be blue.
Sources close to negotiations told ESPN.com on Sunday that one of Kahne's current sponsors, likely Allstate, would serve as primary sponsor in "a couple of races." (Which races the blue car would run was not known.)
That would be a significant move; Anheuser-Busch isn't apt to offer up the hood of its car to another sponsor. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has driven several different paint schemes during his eight full Nextel Cup seasons in the No. 8. But they all were Budweiser-sponsored.
Kahne chose not to comment on the speculation Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Kahne's team is the latest to move to multiple primary sponsorships. Given the hefty sum of money required to be competitive, more and more teams are divvying up primary sponsorships to more than one company.
The official announcement of Budweiser's move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Gillet Evernham Motorsports is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the GEM shop in Statesville, N.C.
-- Marty Smith
The Chase ... for 35th
Dave Blaney has been flirting with making the top 35 in owners' points in the Bill Davis Racing Toyota Camry for months.
Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway he flirted with disaster twice in the first 200 laps with spins.
The top 35 in owners' points are guaranteed a spot in each weekend's race. Outside the top 35 and it's qualify or go home. Blaney is currently 36th in owners' points, a scant 39 behind the No. 21 driven by Ken Schrader at Loudon.
So there's another big race next weekend at Dover, Del., (1 p.m. ET, ABC) and for the 12 drivers good enough to have made the playoffs every race is important in the Chase.
For drivers like Blaney, the first big race at the Monster Mile will come Friday during qualifying for the Dover 400 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2). If Blaney makes it, he gets to spend another week trying to chase down the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Fusion, alternately campaigned by Schrader and past champion Bill Elliott. If Blaney fails to qualify for the race, it's another lost opportunity to guarantee his team a spot in upcoming races. And if he can stay in the top 35 through the end of the season, he earns his team a guaranteed spot in the first five races of 2008.
But Blaney's foibles at Loudon didn't help any as he finished 35th, five spots behind Schrader.
-- K. Lee Davis
Sunday's race was the first time all 43 cars that started a race finished it since NASCAR mandated the 43-car rule in 1998.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.
K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com