Will a New Crew Chief Bring Kyle Busch to the Promised Land?

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IOctober 27, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 25:   Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's/Halloween Toyota, leads Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, and AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #44 Colemans Natural Foods Dodge, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Joe Gibbs Racing announced today that Dave Rogers, a championship-winning crew chief in the Nationwide Series, will be paired with Kyle Busch for the final four races of this year's Sprint Cup Series schedule.

The move, which has been rumored for a couple of days now, is designed to make the No. 18 team stronger for the rest of this season and beyond.

Rogers replaces Steve Addington, who has been the crew chief of the 18 car since 2005. In 67 races together, Busch and Addington have 12 wins and 32 top-10s, but have failed to impress down the stretch both this year and in 2008, faltering in the Chase last year and failing to make it altogether this year.

Rogers, on the other hand, crew chiefed the No. 20 in the Nationwide Series to an owners' points championship last year, as Busch, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Joey Logano combined for nine wins in 2008. The team has five wins this season as well, with Logano, Hamlin, and Brad Coleman, among others, behind the wheel.

It's unclear whether this move is more about Rogers or Addington. Sure, the Nationwide equipment at Gibbs is probably the best in the series, and to that end, by winning all of those races, Rogers is just doing his job. But to have such an assortment of drivers sharing the car, talented as they all are, is difficult for a crew chief. No two drivers are ever going to be exactly alike, and the fact that his team can run so well with every single one of them is a testament to Rogers' skill atop the pit box as well.

Addington, on the other hand, never did anything to elevate Busch; neither, for that matter, did he help any of the other drivers to run the 18 car while he was leading it. He took over the car in 2005; that year, Bobby Labonte had his worst-ever season (up to that point) in the Cup series, and left the team for Petty Enterprises at the end of the year. J.J. Yeley did nothing to impress in 2006 or 2007, save a second-place finish in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600.

Busch joined JGR in 2008 with a chip on his shoulder, having been ousted from Hendrick Motorsports in favor of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the team was entering its first year as the de facto lead Toyota team. The fact that they performed so well in the first 26 races of last year was more of a testament to the right combination of driver and horsepower at the right time than anything else; the car was leading laps and contending for wins week in and week out.

But to sustain that success through the Chase, especially with a driver as terse as Busch, the crew chief has to keep his driver calm when the team encounters problems. Whatever it was that Addington was doing during last year's playoff collapse and this year's free-fall out of the playoffs, it wasn't working. It seems apparent at this point that Steve Addington needed Kyle Busch more than Kyle Busch needed Steve Addington; the fact that all 12 of Addington's Sprint Cup wins came with Busch behind the wheel is a telling statistic.

Rogers' strong Nationwide record and past experience working with Busch bode well for improvement in 2010. He's certainly earned his promotion. But keeping the 18 team from falling victim to the same challenges that it succumbed to under the leadership of Addington will be his strongest challenge yet.


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