Penske finally gets elusive Daytona 500 victory

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February 18, 2008
— Roger Penske’s empire just got bigger. No longer must he be content with more Indianapolis 500 victories than any other car owner. Now he’s a Daytona 500 winner, too.

Somehow, it just seems right he won the 50th running of NASCAR’s biggest race.

The Captain, as he is known by almost everyone in racing, has always had a way of winning the big one – in Indy cars.

Now, Penske finally got THE big one in stock car racing, courtesy of Ryan Newman, who was pushed to the win by teammate Kurt Busch as the two drove past hard-luck Tony Stewart on the final lap.

“I know we did something special for The Captain,” Busch said. “Roger never put extra pressure on us to win this race. He does throw in a nice bonus in our contract if we do win this race.”

This victory’s meaning was obvious as NASCAR has not been kind to the suave, silver-haired entrepreneur.

“We’ve been open-wheel guys, and, coming down here, it’s been tough,” said Penske, the winner of 14 Indy 500s. “And this has got to go to the top of the charts here.”

Although the stock-car team had 82 poles and 57 victories in 927 races entering Sunday’s race, there were no victories at Daytona International Speedway.

Penske has come close to winning Daytona before. Bobby Allison was the runner-up in a Penske car in 1975, and Newman finished third in 2006.

But this victory came as a surprise. Nobody gave Penske’s Dodges, which hadn’t shown any speed, much of a chance.

“I can say I’ve been coming here almost 30 years trying to get to Victory Lane here,” Penske said. “We’ve worked hard and we’ve come close, but this one was pure team effort.”

Though Penske Racing entered the race as long-shots, Penske said he knew his team could win.

“I think this year we were confident,” said the 70-year-old. “A lot of things had to come together. To me, we got a long way to go before we can sit at the table with (Hendrick and Gibbs), but we’re coming close.”

Attention to detail has always been the watchword of Penske Racing, right from the early days when the old-timers in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage laughed at the crewcut kids in the spotless uniforms who kept the floors clean enough to eat off of.

The laughter stopped in 1972, just three years after Penske’s arrival, when Mark Donohue – an engineering graduate like Newman – gave Penske his first Indy win.

Penske’s teams have won more than 200 races and 20 national championships, including 12 Indy car titles.

Now he’s celebrating another first.

“It was special for me, obviously,” Penske said. “We’ve tried for many years. We’ve had great drivers and been very close through the years but, again, we never executed at the end. I thank Kurt, too. He pushed us to victory.”

And Penske’s already looking ahead to the next NASCAR win.

“I think as we go forward, this will give our team a lot of momentum. But I can tell you this, we’re going to line up with everybody else next week in California. I don’t think because you won the Daytona 500 they give you an extra lap ahead of the field.”

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