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Dodge aims for celebratory going-away party

November 16, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Dodge aims for celebratory going-away party

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- When word came down last March that Penske Racing would be switching manufacturers from Dodge to Ford beginning in 2013, team owner Roger Penske indicated that the move was being made to give his organization its best chance at winning a Sprint Cup championship.

Folks both inside and outside the Penske operation immediately wondered what it would mean for those hopes in 2012.

"They've been so devoted to this program and what we we've been trying to do together."

--TRAVIS GEISLER

"I think there certainly was a moment there when everything came down where we all kind of wondered what was going to happen with the split between us and Dodge," said Travis Geisler, director of competition for Penske Racing. "There was that moment during the season where in your head you start running through the scenarios."

Then Geisler started thinking of the people he has worked with from Dodge Motorsports in recent years, like Howard Comstock, NASCAR program engineer for Dodge.

"The next thought in my head was about the people we've worked with and deal with on a daily basis, like Howard, who make this program work from a technical standpoint," Geisler said. "And that kind of put me at ease immediately -- because I knew those guys had as much skin in the game as any of us. They've been so devoted to this program and what we we've been trying to do together."

What they've been trying to do together is win the first Sprint Cup championship in the 40-year NASCAR history of Penske Racing. They are on the cusp of accomplishing it, with Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Dodge, heading into this Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a commanding 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings.

It seems it might be a bittersweet moment for guys like Comstock, who has been involved in Dodge's NASCAR efforts for 15 years. Instead, Comstock insists that he only tastes the sweetness of it. He also denied that helping Dodge go out on top would make winning this championship any more satisfying to him or others on his Dodge Motorsports support team.

"It's pretty hard to be more satisfied than it would be winning a championship under any circumstances," Comstock said. "This is the hardest form of racing that you'll find in this country and maybe the world. I've done it for a long time and this is real difficult. It's hard every year. And to me, it only has value because it's hard. Not a lot of people can do this -- and when you win, you know in your own mind that you've done good because it is so hard."

Penske said he appreciates all that Dodge has done this season and in seasons past to help his organization get to this point.

"Dodge obviously has been a great partner," Penske said. "We've been with them for 10 years. The support they've given us over this last 12 months has been doubled up. ... I would say it's been all hands on deck."

Penske has said that the split came as a result of Dodge being unable or at least initially unwilling to offer the same kind of long-term deal in terms of dollars and support that Ford offered. But he said he hopes Dodge returns to NASCAR as soon as 2014.

"We have a great relationship," he said. "We represent them in the retail auto network, so we're a big supporter of their products. To me it's just one of those things, timing maybe, budgets and other things that really made the difference. But I hope they'll be back in 2014 -- and that maybe our results might help accelerate that for them to get back in the sport on a full-time basis."

Geisler said that any lingering doubts he may have had that Dodge wouldn't be all-in this season after the March announcement were quickly erased after Keselowski encountered problems shortly thereafter with the fuel-injection system in his car.

"Dodge obviously has been a great partner. The support they've given us over this last 12 months has been doubled up. ... I would say it's been all hands on deck."

--ROGER PENSKE

"It quickly became apparent to me that they were still into it," Geisler said. "At the beginning of the year, we had some struggles. It would have been very easy for Dodge to say, 'Look, that's a good reason not to be involved with those guys. They can't even figure out how to get fuel to the engines.' Instead, they came back and sent people down to the shop, sent people to test with us. We were up at their place. We were using all of the resources they had to try to fix our problems. And they certainly had way more expertise in that area than we did, given our history and the amount of time that they had worked with it.

"To me, that was really kind of the first hurdle of the season where we said, 'Hey, how is this really going to work now? Everybody says it's going to be the same, but will it?' That was when myself and everybody else had our ideas confirmed that, hey, they're behind it as much if not more than ever because we all know this is our last opportunity to kind of do what we all set out to do. So the pressure was on to get the goal accomplished."

Comstock said he and his fellow Dodge employees on the NASCAR side knew only one way to go about their business. So while some may see Penske Racing and Dodge Motorsports as strange championship bedfellows, Comstock never did.

"You know, it might have seemed strange to some people. It wasn't strange for me," he said. "We thought we had good stuff and we thought we had a shot at a championship this year. We kind of collectively worked toward that goal. And here we are.

"At the end of Sunday, I'm completely happy that I did everything I could this year to help Penske and Brad and Travis win a championship, and [crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] and the team. Anything that we've asked, they've responded. We've helped where we could. We've tried to stay out of their way where we should. It's been a perfect situation, as far as I'm concerned."

Geisler said he gives Comstock huge credit for assisting the Penske efforts this season.

"Howard is a guy who understands the ins and outs of this," Geisler said. "To have him be able to bridge that gap from the manufacturer to the race team -- for him to be able to explain to them when maybe we're being a little difficult, and for it to be able to go the other way as well, it's been something different than what most other people in this garage have and it's been very beneficial.

"It allowed us to make a great run for that Nationwide championship [with Keselowski in 2010] and check that box for Penske Racing on the NASCAR side, and obviously this is another huge box that hasn't been checked that we need to take care of this weekend. To do this together would be something we'd all be very, very proud of."

As for Comstock, who is 63 years old and also owns several auto-repair shops in the Greensboro, N.C., area, he's said he is ready for what he expects will come next for him, too.

"I really don't have any plans for next year," Comstock said. "I've been with Dodge and their racing program for 15 years, and they really don't have anything going next year. So I guess I'll go fishing. My granddaughter will like that."