NASCAR Media Tour Day 3 - A visit to Penske South
by Pete McCole

January 25, 2006

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Penske Racing South
Pete McCole

Penske Racing South welcomed the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Media Tour to its sprawling 240,781 square-foot complex housing the organization’s two Nextel Cup teams to wrap up day three of the four-day press tour.

Penske Racing introduced their driver lineup for 2006, with Kurt Busch taking over the wheel of the no. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for the retiring Rusty Wallace. Joining him on the stage Wednesday was his Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the no. 12 Alltel Dodge, as well as their respective crew chiefs.

Team owner Roger Penske was attending to his role as chairman of the Super Bowl XL Host Committee in Detroit, Mich. and was unable to attend Wednesday night’s event, however, in a statement released by the team, he explained his decision behind his choice of driver to replace Wallace.

“Kurt’s a winner, he’s a champion. I’ve followed Kurt for a number of years. He and I have known each other for several years and I am proud to have him aboard our team,” said Penske.

Kurt Busch
Pete McCole

“With Rusty retiring, Miller Brewing and I looked for someone who could be or already was a champion. He was the right age, and obviously, he’s a winner.”

One year ago, Busch was basking in the glory of his 2004 Nextel Cup Championship, looking forward to defending his title entering his fifth year with Roush Racing.

Instead, Busch’s title defense ended in disgrace, with Busch sitting out the final two races of the season after being suspended by Roush Racing following his arrest for driving while intoxicated near Phoenix Int’l Raceway last November.

Busch’s relationship with his former team was already on shaky ground after Busch announced last summer he’d signed a new deal with Penske with two years remaining on his contract with Roush.

After Busch’s run-in with the law, Roush was all too eager to end their five-year relationship.

Busch didn’t dwell in his past relationship with his former team, instead on the faith instilled in him by his new owner, who said he supported his new driver “300 percent.”

“Roger came to my support when it needed to come out, and I was humbled by the way that we started together,” said Busch. “It was tough to have that start, but we’ve definitely put it behind us.

“I got a call from him on Christmas day, to wish me a Merry Christmas and to invite me to the Super Bowl, I was almost in tears, thinking this was starting off to be a greater relationship than what I thought it could be.”

Ryan Newman
Pete McCole

Penske hopes that Busch will be a better fit as a teammate for Newman and his team, who rarely shared information with Wallace due to their dissimilar driving styles.

“Anything would be better than the way it was before, we definitely struggled as teammates in the previous years, for more than one reason,” said Newman. “It wasn’t just Rusty and I, there were circumstances outside of that.

“Kurt and I have always had a good relationship, we’ve never had an on-track incident. He’s had a good opportunity several times to turn me around on the racetrack and I’ve had a lot of respect for him ever since. We look forward to racing together and working together.”

Newman’s sponsor, Alltel, also took the opportunity to announce they had extended their sponsorship agreement with the team through the 2008 season.

Wednesday night’s program was highlighted by the 21st annual presentation of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Award of Excellence in honor of Russ Catlin, which traditionally recognizes outstanding Motorsports coverage while honoring the memory of Catlin, a Motorsports journalism pioneer.

For 2005, two additional categories were added to recognize outstanding print and electronic coverage of Wallace’s “Last Call,” the 1989 series champion’s final season of NASCAR Nextel Cup Racing.

The 2005 winners of the Miller Lite Motorsports Journalism Award of Excellence were:

- Print – Daily – Nate Ryan, Richmond Times-Dispatch
- Print – Other –Mike Hembree, NASCAR Scene
- Print – “Last Call” – Rea White, NASCAR Scene
- Broadcast – National – Mike Massaro, ESPN
- Broadcast – Local – Paul Johnson, WCYB-TV
- Broadcast – “Last Call” – Paul Johnson, WCYB-TV
- Photojournalism – Phil Rider – Sports Illustrated.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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