Kurt Busch won the spring Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second year in a row. He did it with a new crew chief, but the same car owner. Roger Penske strolled to victory lane on a day when the influence of single-seat and open cockpit racing became evident at the finish.
Penske, or "The Captain" as he is known around racing circuits, is synonymous with motorsports success. He has many owner trophies from NASCAR and even more from various Indycar-style series.
The titles of the United States Auto Club’s Indianapolis cars, Championship Auto Racing Teams, and the Indy Racing League, have all fallen to Penske teams over the years. His 15 Indy 500 wins are unprecedented. But this is not the only open-wheel personality to shine in Atlanta.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third. He has won the CART championship, seven Formula 1 races including Monaco and the Indianapolis 500 as well.
Montoya’s NASCAR car owner is Chip Ganassi. The pair was together for those Indy and CART title drives. Ganassi captured the 2009 IRL championship with driver Dario Franchitti and was a CART series driver himself back in the 1980s.
Paul Menard finished an outstanding fifth place. His father John Menard is the owner of the large Menard’s Midwest Home Improvement chain. The elder Menard was a long time Indianapolis car owner both with CART and the IRL.
Sixth finisher A.J. Allmendinger was a strong contender for the Champ Car title in 2006. Coming up through a road racing background and winning Champ Car’s 2004 rookie of the year award, Allmendinger claimed five victories in 2006 and was one of the few drivers to challenge Sebastian Bourdais for the championship. In 2007 Bourdais ventured to Formula 1 and Allmendinger to NASCAR.
Red Bull Racing had cars finishing seventh and tenth with Brian Vickers and Scott Speed. Austria-based Red Bull is well known for its involvement in European motorsports and in particular Formula 1. Its full time Cup effort in 2007 was one of the last few racing series they had not already been involved in.
And Speed was a full-time F1 driver during 2006 and 2007. His first start in that series was in 2005, becoming the first American since Michael Andretti in 1993 the drive there. But a lack of success and no points scored caused Scuderia Toro Rosso to release Speed. A relationship with Red Bull found a place in American stock car racing in 2008 for Speed.
An exciting NASCAR Cup race was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But it definitely had a feel influenced by Indycar and Formula 1 circuits. In all the stories about dark clouds hovering over NASCAR, this does tell a story of how healthy the sport is when drivers are leaving other powerful tours and heading for America’s top stock car series.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET. Listen at www.wsicweb.com.)