Penske power up with new Dodge engine

February, 25, 2009
02/25/09
1:31
PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Did you notice all three Penske Racing teams used the new Dodge engine in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at California, and the four Richard Petty Motorsports teams used the old one?

Did you wonder why?

The economy has a lot to do with it.

Penske Racing is committed to using the new engine for all races outside of restrictor-plate tracks even though it has plenty of the old engines sitting around the shop. RPM is using its old inventory before investing heavily into an engine that hasn't gone through a full season and may not be an option next year if Dodge gets out of the sport, as many speculate.

"As far as the financial question, that is one of fiscal responsibility on my part to make the decision on performance for dollars spent," Mark McArdle, RPM's vice president for competition, recently said. "In these tough times, we've got to look at it and make certain going in the direction of the R6P8 is going to be both a performance advantage and be fiscally responsible.

"We've got an inventory in excess of 110 R5P7s. To build all new R6P8s is certainly a capital investment."

One race isn't enough to judge which team made the right call, but at California the Penske teams finished fifth (Kurt Busch), 13th (David Stremme) and 23rd (Sam Hornish Jr.) with the new engine. That's an average finish of 13.6.

The RPM teams finished 12th (Kasey Kahne), 21st (Reed Sorenson), 25th (Elliott Sadler) and 29th (AJ Allmendinger). That's an average finish of 21.7.

Most agree there's a definite power advantage in the new Dodge engine that becomes a factor on intermediate tracks such as California and Las Vegas, the host of this week's race.

The lack of power was the biggest complaint from Dodge teams last year. That's one reason former Dodge owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates turned to the Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt Inc. when looking for a new partner.

Ryan Newman, formerly of Penske Racing, noticed an immediate increase in power when he stepped into the Chevrolets for Stewart-Haas Racing.

"We've been extremely pleased with the engine," said Busch's crew chief, Pat Tryson. "We continue to see gains all the way around with it. There's additional horsepower there, and more to be found, we hope."

At some point RPM hopes to go to the new engine, although nobody knows for sure when that will be.

"There's not any pressure by Dodge," McArdle said. "Frankly, they're not producing many of the components for the R5P7 any longer, so remaining another year with the R5 is risky to an extent."

The Penske teams took the initial risk late last season, fitting Busch with the new engine first at Kansas. They have spent time working out the kinks and believe there is great potential to increase horsepower even more.

That's definitely good news for Busch. Lost in the shuffle of Matt Kenseth winning the first two races, Kyle Busch winning two races on the same day and Dale Earnhardt Jr. not winning anything has been Busch's fast start.

The 2004 champion has been out of contention much of the last four seasons, particularly 2008 when he finished 18th in points. But I've always said give him good equipment and he'll show why he's one of the most talented drivers out there, and it appears Penske Racing is doing that.

Busch is one of only three drivers -- Kenseth and Tony Stewart are the other two -- who have finished in the top 10 in the first two races. He was 10th at Daytona and fifth last weekend at California.

The fast start has him tied with Stewart for third place in points, only 10 behind second-place Jeff Gordon.

Once Penske gets a little more power out of the new Dodge engine Busch may be a force to reckon with as he was in 2004 -- if he already isn't.

That also may force RPM to speed up its plans.

"I'm surprised they haven't gone to the new engine," Tryson said. "Maybe they're not going to be a Dodge team forever. Our plan right now is to be Dodge as long as Dodge is around, so we're committed. I'm not sure the other team is."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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