The Frontstretch: Where Next for Kyle Busch, No. 18 Team? by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday September 11, 2012

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Where Next for Kyle Busch, No. 18 Team?

The Yellow Stripe · Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday September 11, 2012


There really is no excuse for a driver the caliber of Kyle Busch or the No. 18 team missing the Chase for the second time in four seasons. A force on the race track that blasted from Cup prospect to all-star on the back of an eight-win 2008 campaign, which faltered in the Chase, then ultimately resulted in less than a season later Busch failing to object to crew chief Steve Addington being forced off the box of the No. 18, 12 wins in the past two seasons notwithstanding.

While the blame for Saturday’s poor finish can be pinned on his crew chief, who is to blame for Kyle Busch missing the Chase?

Fast forward to 2012, and for all the winning, the hype, and the accolades for being brash and aggressive, Busch is right where he was back in 2009 when Addington left; on the outside looking in, a raging tiger on the track but a paper one when it comes to actually challenging for the Cup. Even though it was ultimately Dave Rogers’ ill-fated pit call on lap 277 to stay out and bank on a rain-out that left the No. 18 mired too far back in traffic to challenge Jeff Gordon for the second wild card slot, one pit call did not make or break this season. Engine woes, a poor finish at Daytona in the summer…all of these factors had one of NASCAR’s strongest teams in a hole to begin with. In contention or not in 2012, this has not been the team that in 2008 was feared no matter where the Cup circuit went next.

Fortunately, for Rogers at least, it does seem that the JGR organization has learned a thing or two about handling these situations, and their driver, since 2009. Kyle was short-spoken after Saturday night’s race, but got through his post-race comments without throwing the team under the bus or disparaging anybody in the engine shop or on-track. Team owner Joe Gibbs wasted no time conferring with Rogers following the event, and confirming the stability of the team and its leadership moving forward for the rest of the 2012 campaign.

Perhaps most telling of the situation though, both of the weekend and how the No. 18 team proceeds, was how Rogers described his interaction with his driver immediately following the conclusion of Saturday’s ill-fated event:

“You know, we were both speechless,” Rogers told “We went up there [in the hauler] and looked at each other and nodded and said, ‘We’ll talk later.’ But we didn’t say much. Kyle did a good job of keeping his composure and took it on the chin like a man, and went back to his bus.”

Part of the reaction may have been composure, maturity, or even more grimly the realization that for this night at least, the driver wouldn’t be held responsible for a 16th place finish that handed the unlikeliest of Chase bids to Jeff Gordon, a driver that literally had to have the sky open up to the most intense storm NASCAR has seen in recent memory to score his only win this season. But there’s another angle to this story that has to be told. Namely, Rogers was the guy that got the call when Addington got forced out, his run of success with JGR and with handling Busch’s even-more abrasive self three seasons ago notwithstanding.

Rogers may well have been an internal JGR promotion, and even a deserving one. But having said that, he was Busch’s pick to a large degree as well. Rewind back to 2009, and just look at JGR still today. Kyle Busch wanted a Nationwide Series championship, even after falling to pieces in pursuing a Cup crown in 2008, so he got the keys to a car in 2009. Even though he missed the Chase pursuing the minor league trophy that year, he still got to run plentiful Nationwide Series races in the seasons that followed. Now, despite being arguably the most hyped driver in the Cup field without a serious championship run on his resume, Busch still gets to pursue team ownership, gets a free pass when he does things like run over teammate Brian Scott in Nationwide competition. Even the harshest punishment he’s ever received (being parked for the final races of 2011 after wrecking Ron Hornaday in another of those minor league starts he just has to have) came when his title hopes for the season were long dashed.

There’s a reason Busch was subdued dealing with the media; there were no fingers to point or heads to roll like there have been in the past. A driver that’s been given the keys to one of the strongest teams in the Cup garage, seen leadership changed to support him at the slightest sign of struggle, that’s been forgiven for actions on track that would end careers for others, came up short again…even if it was the mistake of the supporting cast that ruined Richmond.

Where does the No. 18 team move forward from here? It’s obvious JGR’s got something going right for it. Denny Hamlin leads the Cup Series in wins and is the hottest driver on the circuit heading to Chicagoland, while 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth left the only home he’s ever known in NASCAR racing to come join the ranks. The cars are there. Ownership clearly thinks the leadership is there.

And while there’s definitely some hard questions that need to be asked of the team’s current engine arrangement, it’s time to, for perhaps the first time, ask some hard questions about the driver roster as well. Kyle Busch has the talent, but one can’t help but to wonder if it’s being managed properly. Sure, the Nationwide Series starts have been cut in 2012, but is team ownership still proving too distracting? Sure, Dave Rogers has a track record of winning races, but is his demeanor really the compliment needed for the firebrand Busch?

After all, the driver known as Rowdy has been with JGR for five years now. And in that time, he still hasn’t bested his last points effort before leaving Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle’s certainly not a guy ripe for replacement, but he’s not meeting expectations either.

And a knee-jerk crew chief replacement isn’t going to be a cure-all. Just look at 2009, and how quickly that situation repeated itself for Busch and Co.

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Andy D
09/11/2012 04:03 AM

JGR’s main focus next year will be to get Kenseth settled in and happy. If Denny does well in the chase, they’ll be keeping that operation purring and meeting sponsor requests. Kyle is the low man on the totem pole in 2013 and he has to pull himself out of this hole.

He has the car, the crewchief and the talent. The problem is within him.

Carlo Ferrari
09/11/2012 04:55 AM

The writer might very well have some good points. However I couldn’t get past the worst constructed 63 word second sentence I have read. Three times. I still couldn’t make any sense of it. Find an editor or go back to school.

KY Boy
09/11/2012 06:06 AM

He just had a rough year. It happens to a lot of drivers these days. Competition is fierce now and a few bad races can kill ya. Oh well dry ur eyes! Go 88!

09/11/2012 09:44 AM

Maybe Gibbs will ask Kyle to run for the nationwide or truck championship next year (2013) with Denny and Matt being Gibbs # 1 & 2 premier drivers. Kyle had 5 years with all the resources and opportunities available to him to win the title and has failed miserably. He needs to step down for a year and reevaluate his place in Nascar

09/11/2012 10:14 AM

KYle Busch is a great great talent and a terrific race car driver, but he is a front runner… He dominates the Nationwide series ( well he used to before he started his own team ) because he has great equipment and is much more talented than the regular nationwide guys.. However when things dont go well, he pouts.. if that is indeed the case when asked how can we make the car better and he responded by saying who cares after the bad pit call by his crew chief, then thats all you need to know about him.. ITs prob an underlined factor why he never has had success in the chase… Its a shame because the guys talent is second to none.. he needs to grow up

09/11/2012 10:47 AM

When Kyle is himself the media pounds him, when he’s not doing anything the media asks “what’s wrong?”.

This season wasn’t Kyle’s fault.

Old farmer
09/11/2012 11:07 AM

Amen to Carlo!

Michael in SoCal
09/11/2012 11:50 AM

I just re-read the second sentence – made sense to me.

next karma
09/11/2012 12:33 PM

Two that are quite happy with this latest meltdown of kyle and the 18 team are Happy Harvick and Childress. They went to all lengths last year in both KHI and RCR camps to enter as many nationwide cars and trucks as possilbe to race Kyle as dirty as possible to screw him royally. They succeeded nicely. Since Texas last November Kyle has not been the same. And even last week Harvick boasted he’d still like to punch Kyle in the mouth. These 2 have done more to harm Kyle’s career more than anyone else. Hope Karma gets these 2 thugs in the chase with a 12th place finish.

09/11/2012 12:51 PM

Carlo Ferrari: you don’t like the writing? Ask for the price of your subscription back. You can disagree all you care to with the position the writer may take on an issue but NOBODY NEEDS YOUR SNARKY UNSOLICITED COMMENTS REGARDING THE WRITER’S SCHOOLING.

Carl D.
09/11/2012 01:19 PM

No snarky comments here, but I agree that first paragraph WAS a mess. I blame Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress.

Jacob T
09/11/2012 01:29 PM

I think the Byran Keith had a bet on the longest sentence he could get into a column. Presumably with RCR.

09/11/2012 01:34 PM

KyBu has talent and races for a team with a lot of resources. There is also such a thing as mental toughness and that seems to be where he has the most trouble. He’s been given a free pass for most of his actions, including driving over other cars on the track when he could choose another path.

09/11/2012 02:30 PM

Who’s the real haters, everyone needs to grow up

09/11/2012 02:46 PM

Kyle had bad luck this year if Gordon didn’t get that caution to Pit this story would be about him JR ran in the back of the pack for 3 years now he is his old man with one win in what 3 years , Can’t do anything with blown engines and getting caught up in a few wrecks , he will be fine .

09/11/2012 04:42 PM

Kyle may have a lot of fun during the chase. Guess what Harvick, I wouldn’t want to see the #18 in my rearview.

09/11/2012 05:27 PM

JER has a point, might be fun watching that play out.

09/11/2012 07:45 PM

% of races won of total started:
Kyle Bush 9.8
Tony Stewart 9.6
Denny Hamlin 8.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr 4.1
Dale Earnhardt Sr. 17.7
Jimmie Johnson 14.9
Jeff Gordon 12.7
Kevin Harvick 4.4
Carl Edwards 7.3
Matt Kenseth 4.8
Kyle’s career is over!!!!!!!

09/11/2012 08:25 PM

I’ve gotta laugh at the whole notion of RCR and Kevin Harvick entering races with the sole purpose of screwing Kyle Busch. I guess it is wrong for a team owner to try and develop young drivers like RCR is doing in the trucks and nationwide series. busch drives like an idiot most of the time with no regard to other who are racing for the championship in their series’. I hope he tries to mess with Harvick cause if he ever makes it back in the chase Harvick will make sure he does win the cup.

09/11/2012 08:26 PM

I meant doesn’t win the cup.

09/12/2012 04:46 PM

Kyle will be fun to watch these next 10 races. He will probable win a few. And be in the hunt in a few more. He will get his share of championships in the future. GO ROWDY!!!

KY Boy
09/14/2012 06:44 AM

KB might win 1. Thats it. Everybody has jumped on every Jr article every year sayin his fans make excuses, but it sounds like KB fans are barking out those excuses now! His team has been off all year, and he is a part of the team. Its never Kyle its always the crew chief! Remember that one from 2009? Lmao Good luck in the chase KB! Oh I forgot