Penske loses veteran

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

ATLANTA -- The shakeup at Penske South Racing started last week when the No. 12 race team was dissolved. It continued Wednesday with the resignation of Rusty Wallace's crew chief.

The departure of Ryan Pem berton after seven years ends the long est-running relationship be tween a driver and crew chief on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series circuit.

Pemberton told the team he would leave at the end of the year to recover from 22 grueling years on the road.

Bill Wilburn, who's been with Wallace since 1992 as a front tire changer, will replace Pemberton atop the toolbox next season.

Roger Penske, majority own er at Penske South, has been involved in several moves in the racing off-season. Last month, he decided to move both of his IndyCar teams out of CART and into the Indy Racing League. Penske was one of the founding members of CART, but pressure from his sponsor and the continued decline of CART forced him to jump ship.

Then he decided to fold one of this stock car teams. The No. 12 Ford, driven most of the year by Jeremy Mayfield and finished by Mike Wallace, was the best car in the Penske fleet at the end of the season with a couple top-10 finishes in the last 10 races.

Penske decided to devote all of the team's resources on Wal lace's team and a new car being driven by rookie Ryan Newman.

Pemberton's departure end ed a seven-year stint as Wal lace's crew chief.

PINK SLIPS: Joining the members of the No. 12 team in the unemployment line last week was the crew of Melling Racing.

That team hasn't been able to land sponsorship for the 2002 season, so it closed its doors.

Driver Stacy Compton has an opportunity to drive the ST Motorsports and its No. 59 Chev rolet on the NASCAR Busch Se ries next year if he can't find full-time work in Winston Cup. He and Kevin Lepage are the two finalists for the job at A.J. Foyt's No. 14 car.

Also, members of Andy Pe tree's No. 33 team are on alert. Petree said he will race the first three races in 2002 with Mike Wallace as his driver, but if he can't get a sponsor after that, his team might fold as well.

Brett Bodine's team is still looking for a primary sponsor, as is Ultra Motorsports' No. 7 Ford.

All this makes the words of NASCAR president Mike Helton seem curious. During his state-of-the-sport address last week, Helton said the sport was economically sound.

PIT STOPS: Ricky Rudd had exploratory surgery on his back this week. He said the wear and tear of sitting in a race seat has caused his fifth vertebra to move out of alignment.

... Jim Long, who used to work at Ultra Motorsports, is the leading candidate to become the new crew chief for Terry Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolet. His former crew chief, Gary DeHart, will move into the research and development department for Hendrick Motorsports. ... With Mike Wallace being picked to drive Andy Petree's No. 33 Chevrolet in the first three races next year, it appears Robert Pressley will wind up either in the Craftsman Truck Series or the NASCAR Busch Series. One option might be as the full-time driver for Michael Waltrip's No. 99 Busch Series cars.

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