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Penske Changes Engine Department, Could Mean End of Success

December 8th, 2012 at 1:30 AM
By Clayton Caldwell

Penske Racing has been one of NASCAR's premier race teams since Roger Penske re-entered NASCAR in the 1991 season. In 2012 the organization won their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. It was a great feat as Brad Keselowski beat one of the sports best drivers in Jimmie Johnson. 

One of Penske's strong points of the season were the engines that powered the #2 and #22 Dodges. Penske Engines did not have one engine failure in the 2012 season, the only engine group that can say that. The team also got significantly better fuel mileage than their competitors proven with their victory at Dover in September. 

All that will be gone for Penske Racing in the 2013 season as the team will use Roush-Yates engines for the 2013 season and beyond. It's a move that has had me puzzled since the moment it was announced. 

'Belle Isle Grand Prix 2012' photo (c) 2012, A Healthier Michigan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This sport has seen several teams do what Roger Penske decided to do. Many teams have joined forces with other engine departments because they felt there was no other alternative. 

One of these examples brings me back to the 1993 season and the DarWal Racing team of independent Darrell Waltrip. Waltrip had a ton of success in the 1970's and 1980's running for teams like DiGard Racing, Junior Johnson Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. When 1991 came along Waltrip had decided he wanted to do what he started his career out doing, running his own race team. Waltrip enjoyed that when his career started in 1972 and even won his first career race in 1975 running for his own team. Waltrip had a lot of success the first time. 

The second time around Waltrip was doing fine in his first two years running his own team. He had won five races in two seasons, finishing in the top ten in points in both 1991 and 1992. In 1993 Waltrip made what he called in his book one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Waltrip was known as being bullheaded at times and that was true in 1993 when Waltrip decided he wanted to do things his own way and run his own engine department. In both 1991 and 1992 Rick Hendrick's engine department had powered Waltrip's Chevrolet. 

It was a move that seemed to doom Waltrip. He would run good in 1993 and 1994, but it was nowhere near where he was in his first two seasons. He wouldn't win a race and by 1997 Waltrip's DarWal Racing team was almost out of business. He was never the same driver after that. A lot of people around NASCAR felt had Waltrip stuck with the same engines and not made the change he may have made it work being an independent. 

The second example brings me to the 2004 season. That's when Robert Yates Racing and Roush Racing merged engine departments to form, Roush-Yates Engines. Robert Yates, the team owner of the Robert Yates Racing team, thought the merger would help his organization. It didn't. 

You see Robert Yates Racing always had one thing better than everyone else. He always had great horsepower and as soon as the team began to struggle, Yates thought the merge with Roush would give the team the money it needed to be successful. It didn't. Roush Racing now had the same horsepower as Robert Yates Racing and the once big advantage Yates had was gone. By the 2009 season Yates was completely out of business. It was a sad fate for a once powerful team. 

When you look at those two examples, it's almost impossible to think of Penske Racing moving to Roush-Yates Engines for the 2013 season. It's a different sport than it was 10 or 15 years ago so the damage might not be felt for Penske like was it was for both Yates and Waltrip. 

However, it's a move that could mean bad things for Penske Racing and the success he had in 2012 could be a distant memory. Lets hope not. 

Tags: Darrell Waltrip, DarWal Racing, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Penske Racing, Rick Hendrick, Robert Yates, Robert Yates Racing

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