Penske's patience pays 500 dividends, and a surprise 1-2 finish


Roger Penske can be a patient man which, as a billionaire, is something he also can afford. Now, it's paying off.

Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup team, which has largely hovered in the background the last two years while Henderick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and other teams stole most of NASCAR's headlines, broke quickly from the gate in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Ryan Newman won the coveted race with a helpful push from teammate Kurt Busch, giving Penske's Dodges a 1-2 finish and the longtime motor sports owner his first win at Daytona International Speedway after three decades of trying.

And Penske's newest stock-car driver, former open-wheel racer Sam Hornish Jr., showed surprising strength in his Daytona debut in a Cup car, finishing 15th in the 43-car field after being in the top-10 at one point.

Hornish drove for Penske's IndyCar Series team, winning one of Penske's 14 Indianapolis 500 victories and the series championship three times.

Now Penske brings his Daytona 500 momentum to the West Coast for the second NASCAR Cup race Sunday, the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, a two-mile oval track in Fontana that was built in the mid-1990s by &

Roger Penske.

Not that he expects that to give his team an edge.

"I can tell you this, we're going to line up with everybody else next week in California," he said Sunday. "I don't think because you won the Daytona 500 they give you an extra lap ahead of the field."

Newman is scheduled to start the countdown to the race with an appearance Wednesday at the Hollywood Highland Center on Hollywood Boulevard, starting at noon.

Winning the 50th running of the 500 gave Penske and his team a much needed boost.

After Newman began driving full-time for Penske in 2002, Newman won 12 races in the next three years &

including eight in 2003, a year in which he also won 11 pole positions and earned the nickname "Rocketman."

But then he hit an 81-race dry spell. Before Sunday, Newman's last victory came in September 2005 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch, meanwhile, has won three races since moving to Penske from Roush Fenway Racing two years ago.

But the former Cup champion often has drawn more attention for accidents and other incidents with other drivers than for his victories.

Such was the case at Daytona, where he crashed with Tony Stewart in practice, then angrily banged into Stewart's Toyota as they headed back to the garage. NASCAR put both drivers on a six-race probation, starting with the Daytona 500.

But Busch also has been taking it for the team lately.

Busch stuck his No. 2 Dodge behind Newman's No. 12 on Sunday and kept it there, helping ensure Newman's win as both blocked Stewart.

"I was emotional pushing (Newman) across the line," Busch said. "It felt incredible to have a Penske 1-2 finish. I'm not bitter at all for finishing second."

And before the season started, he accepted Penske's decision to transfer the owners' points from his car to Hornish's Dodge, which guaranteed Hornish a starting spot in the first five races this year. (The top 35 cars in owners' points from the prior year get that privilege.)

That spared Hornish of worrying whether he could qualify on speed each week. Busch, meanwhile, can still make races using his past-champion's provisional starting spot if he doesn't qualify on speed, which is what happened at Daytona.

"As a team, (the points transfer) was a smart decision, and it played out," Busch said Sunday.

Penske, whose interest in California Speedway was later acquired by its current owner, International Speedway Corp., said his team is gaining ground on Hendrick, Gibbs and the other top teams.

"We got a long way to go before we can sit at the table with those guys, but we're coming close," he said.

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