The ongoing evaluation of the Dodge Intrepid versus Charger NEXTEL Cup Series race platforms continued at Kentucky Speedway Tuesday with Penske Racing South driver Kurt Busch the No. 2 Miller Lite car.

Busch visited the 1.5-mile tri-oval to work with spring packages and further explore techniques for enhancing the performance of the 2006 Charger template.

"We come here to test because this is the closest track that we can run that gives us information for other racetracks. This place is definitely the caliber of a Cup facility. Northern Kentucky, the Cincinnati area, everybody wants a Cup race here.

"We're studying the way the rear and front springs come down to the racetrack. You don't want the car to hit the racetrack, you just want to make sure you get the car as low as you can. This place is flat and smooth. We're trying to get things right for our next race. We had it right at Daytona, but we've struggled in the last two races so we're just coming back and touching up on things," Busch said.

The 2004 series champion who competed in Roush Racing Fords for the past six seasons, described his Kentucky test as an asset at the early juncture in his Penske and Dodge transition.

"It's been weird just transitioning teams and getting that communication right. We drafted with Ryan Newman at Daytona and that's a big piece of the puzzle - getting the teams working together. I think that's gone real smooth so far."

While continuing to establish a solid communication baseline with Newman and new Crew Chief Roy McAuley, Busch also faces the challenge of managing his test tire allotment due to the series' new tire leasing policy.

"Right now, we have as many tires as we can find in our batch. Once we run out, we're out and we just have to do the NASCAR tests. It sets us on a little bit of a budget. Instead of just full throttle, wear out as many tires as you want, you really have to use the tires the right way because you want your car to handle well on new tires and old tires.

"We stashed, let's just say 100 tires, because we can only test 10 times this year due to the schedule. We look at it and we just bring 10 tires per test. So, for example, if it's 10 tests and 100 tires, we just divide it the numbers because at the end of the year, there's no more stockpiling tires. They're all gone. NASCAR is going to take them away and actually serial number the tires. It makes sense for the environment, our racecars and the budget."

Despite his numerous immediate challenges, the 27-year-old Las Vegas, Nev., driver said he is learning from the Penske approach to NEXTEL Cup racing.

"The biggest difference for me has to be just the platform between cars. Driving the Ford the last few years and understanding it, now it's the Dodge. We've been running the '04 car and the '05 car, so we're here, again, trying to sort out the differences. We're just trying to make sure we do the right things with our stock cars. We have to really understand, and our group does, from the ground up on what we have to do to get these big beasts around the track," Busch said.

Busch added that one advantage to being a part of the Penske organization is his opportunity to tap the racing knowledge of the team's successful open-wheel engineers.

"We've exchanged lots of computer-based ideas such as writing different programs to understand how the front geometry works. We're looking at it from the new way of doing things instead of the old school.

"Those open-wheel cars are real light and nimble and they turn real easy. You just throw downforce at them and go. It's just a different world with the stock car stuff and Roger (Penske) is definitely in tune with everything we're doing," Busch said.

He hopes the engineering exchange will uncover the key elements he will need to improve his Charger templates and help him advance from the 22nd position in the series standings.

"We raced the Charger at Daytona and had a great car. Then we raced the '04 at California and Vegas and saw some things with it. I think we can be better all around once we get everything put together and we'll end up with the Charger. That's what we need to do. When Dodge puts so much money into advertising a program, that's the car we need to race.

"Right now, we're just trying to get the templates right so we're good when we compete with other cars. We're not looking for help from NASCAR, but trying to do it ourselves. We really just want to hammer down on what we can do internally before we go, 'Hey, can you help us out a little bit?,'" he said.

Newman also participated in the test.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~