© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2002
CONCORD, N.C. -- Penske Racing made its long anticipated move to Dodge official Sunday when the organization said Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman would be driving Intrepids next season.
Car owner Roger Penske, who has fielded Fords for the past nine seasons, agreed to a three-year deal to become the fifth team with Dodge. Now Dodge will have 13 drivers in Intrepids.
But the switch was scrutinized, partly because Newman and Wallace are in the top 10 in the Winston Cup points standings while driving Fords.
"Obviously, it's a business-to-business decision," Penske said. "When we looked at our opportunities, we evaluated aerodynamics and we evaluated the engine technology available to us. This is certainly the right place for us to be in the future."
Penske became the second team to leave the Ford camp, following PPI Motorsports, which will put Ricky Craven in a Pontiac next season.
"I hate to see them go, but we realize this is a business and people have to make decisions that they feel are best for them," said Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing technology.
In landing the 24-year-old Newman, Dodge secured another successful young driver. The top Dodge drivers are now aging veterans Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin, and the manufacturer has been trying to add youth to its team.
Chip Ganassi Racing hired 26-year-old Jamie McMurray, who won Sunday's race as Marlin's injury replacement, to drive next season.
"It's nice to have somebody younger than 40 driving our cars," said Jim Julow, vice president of Dodge Motorsports. "It's essential in order for us to make sure this program lasts into the next decade."
STEADY STEWART: With a chance to win his first Winston Cup title on the line, Tony Stewart's team wanted the driver to play it safe. But the competitive Stewart refused to back off and drove the No. 20 Pontiac to a third-place finish that padded his lead in the points standings to 97 over rookie Jimmie Johnson.
"I'm going to be upset if anyone says I was points racing tonight because I was racing to win," Stewart said. "They said over the radio to just keep the big picture in mind and I said, 'I'm racing to win.' "
MARTINSVILLE MIX-UP: Some Winston Cup teams were surprised to learn Martinsville Speedway owners ground the cement corners on the track before this weekend's race.
Ricky Rudd's team tested the track last week, but ran fewer than 20 laps before the surface wore down his tires and the crew packed up and went home.
But NASCAR said it knew the change was coming, and said the track owners did it to smooth out a possible bump in the surface that was created when a tunnel was built under the track to give access to the infield.
"Some teams didn't get the message that the track was doing this, but we knew it was coming," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. "The surface is currently rough, and through practice and qualifying, it will wear out the tires. But once rubber gets on the racetrack, it will be fine.
"There should not be a problem in the race."
PIT STOPS: Kurt Busch cracked the top 10 in the standings, gaining two spots by finishing 12th. He's the third driver from Roush Racing in the top 10, joining Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth. ... It was a rough race for the Dodges from Evernham Motorsports: Jeremy Mayfield and Casey Atwood had early problems and finished 28th and 30th, and Elliott blew a tire and finished 35th.