Penske-Jasper engine-powered trio enjoyed stellar 2002 season; seek broader improvement with switch to Dodge by Penske teams. MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Bob Dodge, the primary player in the process to provide potent motors from Penske-Jasper Engines...
Penske-Jasper engine-powered trio enjoyed stellar 2002 season; seek broader improvement with switch to Dodge by Penske teams.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Bob Dodge, the primary player in the process to provide potent motors from Penske-Jasper Engines to the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team, is one of the most tenured members of the Jasper Motorsports program. In his five seasons with the team, Dodge has witnessed the steady advancement of the organization to its current posture as a weekly top-15 contender with Dave Blaney, now entering his second year with the program.
But through all the various stages of Jasper engine development, Dodge has never seen anything quite like the situation before him at the dawn of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, one in which the #77 Jasper team will continue to use the potent Ford motors produced by the PJE staff the past two seasons. But in a much-anticipated move announced last fall, the #2 and #12 Penske South entries--the only other Winston Cup benefactors of the powerful PJE motors--will feature Dodge engines produced within the same operational infrastructure.
The new split personality of the Penske-Jasper Engine shop is one of the most compelling storylines for the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. With the extension of 2002 progress for Blaney and the #77 Ford program as well as the maintenance of the top-ten momentum for the Penske South duo of Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman leaning largely on PJE power, Dodge believes he and his peers at Penske-Jasper Engines will continue their successes when the season opens in three weeks with Speedweeks 2003 at Daytona.
"We feel like we're certainly have one of the top engine programs in the sport right now, and we seem to have been gaining on it steadily every week for the two seasons we've all been working together," said Dodge. "With our cooperative relationship with Ilmor Engineering in England, our valve-train research-and-development made big strides over the last year and that's helped us in all areas.
"By the middle of the 2002 season, we got to the point where we could turn more RPMs than I ever would have believed a Winston Cup car could ever turn. That's so important, given the fact that NASCAR instituted the one-engine rule last season. None of us really knew how that was all going to play out, or where the eventual areas of big improvement were going to be as the season unfolded.
"We had no huge reliability issues in 2002, and we made significant gains throughout the season in our dyno readings. The progress the Penske-side guys have made with the new Dodge engines has been impressive so far. I really believe that all three cars will improve again in 2003, and that horsepower will be a big part of the equation for all of that."
When you talk about the success of Winston Cup programs in any era, it becomes racing's "chicken-and-egg" debate--whether horsepower or handling is the essential element for motorsports success. Other sports ponder similar dilemmas--.pitching or hitting (Major League Baseball), offense or defense (National Football League), Shaq or Kobe (National Basketball Association).
When you ask Blaney, the 1995 World of Outlaws champion, about the relative significance of horsepower, there is no debate. You must have it, and can't disguise it's absence. The power made by the Penske-Jasper Engines that propel his #77 Jasper Ford in Winston Cup competition was a huge selling point in joining Jasper Motorsports after leaving Bill Davis Racing in fall, 2001.
And with the outstanding respective seasons that the three cars that feature Penske-Jasper power-plants enjoyed in 2002, the progress that the PJE motor program has made since the alliance began two years ago was an eye-opener among all Winston Cup engine builders and crew chiefs.
Since the program began in 2001, PJE drivers have posted top-ten finishes in one-third (73) of the 216 races run collectively by Wallace, Newman, Blaney, Jeremy Mayfield (2001) and Robert Pressley (2001).
The Penske duo of Newman and Wallace contended for the 2002 title until the last two races of the season, finishing sixth and seventh, respectively, in the final WC standings, only 19 points apart. Newman--the WC Rookie-of-the-Year--won at New Hampshire in July, tied points-runner-up Mark Martin for the most top-ten finishes (22) and fell one short (14) of the series-leading top-five total of WC champion Tony Stewart. Newman started in the top-three for one-third of his races, leading all WC drivers with six pole positions while also earning four outside poles and three third-place starts in his first season.
Wallace failed to win but finished second four times (Daytona, Indianapolis, Bristol, Phoenix) and enjoyed one of his most consistent seasons since his championship campaign in 1989, under the steady guidance of first-year crew chief Bill Wilburn. Enroute to 17 top-ten finishes, Wallace finished first in laps-completed (99%) and third in miles-completed (98.26%)
Blaney brought better consistency (only three DNF's) to the #77 Jasper team in his first season with the organization, producing a career-high 19th-place finish in the final WC standings for both team and driver. And before his early accident and exit in the season-finale in Miami, Blaney ranked second in both laps-completed (98.64%) and miles-completed (98.7%), his uncompleted laps at Homestead representing more than twice his total for the entire 2002 season.
"I come from a horsepower league (World of Outlaws), where I drove 1,200-pound race-cars with 800-plus horsepower, and the ratio between the two was as small as in any series you can race," said Blaney. ""For sure, you must get these big cars handling and get through the corners at every track we race at, whether it's Martinsville or Talladega. But if you are lacking horsepower, and your engine program is behind, you cannot compete for wins weekly in the Winston Cup Series.
"I really feel that the Penske-Jasper Engine program is at the top of the list among the engine builders in NASCAR, and I felt that way before I came over here. I also believe that the fact we only build for the three teams that are part of the project is an important part of how far we progressed in 2001 and 2002. With the switch of the two Penske South teams to Dodge this season, it will be interesting to see how the two programs will interact under one roof."
"Over the past two seasons, the PJE engine guys kept all their gains and the concepts between the three teams. I'm sure they have could come up with 3-4 other Ford teams that would contract for their motors, but that's not what the program has been about, and I'm glad that's not where they're going with it."
The move to join forces with the existing Penske Engine operation in fall, 2002 was a natural evolution of Jasper Engines & Transmissions growth curve as a company, which was founded in 1942 in Jasper, Indiana. The business began because manufacturing and materials were devoted to the war effort, creating a lack of new vehicles.
Jasper's growth has been consistent and progressive to its current status as the nation's leading remanufacturer of gas and diesel engines, transmissions, differentials, marine products, performance products and alternate fuel engines. The company's production facilities now encompass 18 acres under roof among four production locations including two 327,000 square-foot facilities.
The 61-year old company distributes its products through 30 company-owned and independent distributors and serves such markets as independent garages, new-car dealerships, fleets, municipalities and marine repair projects.
Jasper produces over 75,000 gasoline engines, 5,500 diesel engines, 55,000 transmissions, 2,500 differentials, and 1,000 stern drives annually. Jasper also builds performance engines and transmissions, remanufacturers engines for alternate fuel applications and rewinds and repairs electric motors.
Jasper began its racing involvement in 1989 through sponsorship of driver Ken Ragan in a three-race NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. During the course of its 14-year NASCAR history, Jasper established a successful engine-building operation in Mooresville, N.C.. At the end of the 2000 racing season, the Jasper NASCAR engine operation joined with Penske Engines in a combined venture that includes a new 28,000 square-foot facility. In addition to supplying engines for the #2, #12 and #77 Winston Cup programs, Jasper also builds the transmissions and differentials for the #77 team in it's plant in Jasper, IN. The company also is a charter sponsor/partner of the NASCAR Technical Center, opened in early 2002 in Mooresville, N.C.
Through the PJE NASCAR-focused program, Jasper also gains a tremendous advantage in its research-and-development directed toward improving technology the company puts into the products it remanufacturers for both individuals and businesses end-users.
And as a footnote to its Winston Cup success and challenges in that series for 2003, the Penske-Jasper Engine program will also produce motors for Blaney's limited NASCAR Busch Series program with the #31 Whelen Motorsports team of owner Ted Marsh, which will switch from Chevrolet to Ford this season.
In its first year of existence as Penske-Jasper Engines, the organization produced potent motors for future WC star Newman, who ran a split schedule of races in the ARCA, Busch and Winston Cup Series.
In 15 Busch Series starts with PJE-power in 2001, Newman finished in the top-ten eight times (including a win at Michigan) and won six pole-positions, three in track-record time. In seven WC starts in 2001, Newman posted two top-five finishes (including a second at Kansas) and won the pole position for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in only his third WC start.