The Frontstretch: The Forgotten Story of the Kobalt Tools 500 by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday March 11, 2010

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The Forgotten Story of the Kobalt Tools 500

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday March 11, 2010

 

After spending all day Tuesday at work away from the Internet, television and all things NASCAR, I got home to find the sanctioning body had made a decision on what penalty Carl Edwards would face after he intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski, who was running sixth at the time, and sent his car flying through the air. For those of you who happen to have been under a rock for the last 48 hours or so, NASCAR simply put Carl Edwards on probation for three races. That’s it — no suspension, no fine, no points — just probation.

As I sat at my computer dumbfounded by what I had just heard, I thought about all of the things I wanted to say. Suddenly, it occurred to me (with a little help from Tom Bowles) what we’re all missing here. Sure there’s a lot to say about the penalty, or lack thereof, but we’re forgetting about Kurt Busch winning the race as a part of the only Dodge team left in the Cup Series, and perhaps more importantly about Steve Addington’s first race win since getting fired from Joe Gibbs Racing late last season. Ironically, Addington’s first win with Penske Racing comes nearly two years to the day after his first win in the Cup Series with Kyle Busch in the same race in 2008.

It took just four races for the combination of Kurt Busch and Steve Addington to break through and visit victory lane.

Anyone paying attention to the performance of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge through the first four races this season could see a visit to victory lane was only a matter of time. On the surface, the numbers just aren’t that great for Kurt Busch through the first four races of the season. With just two top 10 finishes and an average finish of 16.2, it hardly sounds like Busch has had a great season.

But a closer look reveals a little more. In the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Kurt Busch ran well for most of the race, but a late race pit stop left the No. 2 Dodge mired deep in the field. Steve Addington called Kurt to the pits because he thought he had a cut tire. That call could have gone either way. Had Addington left Busch out on the track and the tire went down, the damage would have been severe and most likely would have left the driver of the No. 2 with a finishing position worse than the 23rd place finishing position he ended up with.

The following week at Auto Club Speedway, Kurt Busch finished sixth. Though the driver of the Miller Lite Dodge struggled early on with his setup, crew chief Steve Addington called for the proper adjustments to allow Kurt to have a competitive car at the end of the race. Coming off of that 23rd place finish at Daytona, almost anything would have been better, but a solid Top 10 finish is just what the team needed.

Then, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch started on the pole at his hometown track and ran inside the top 15 until he was the innocent victim of a dust-up between Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 93. Though the damage wasn’t terminal, it was enough to ruin any hope of contending for the win. Busch went on to finish 35th, eight laps down, and still chases that elusive win at the mile and a half track he calls home.

Judging by Kurt Busch’s success through the first three races of the season, it should come as no surprise that the Blue Deuce flirted with the front of the field all afternoon Sunday during the Kobalt Tools 500. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge led 129 laps, including the most important lap of the day — the last one — to score his third career win at the 1.54-mile oval. And that’s the one that’s getting overshadowed by what can only be described as the Edwards/Keselowski mess.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon after Carl Edwards’ penalty was announced, even Brad Keselowski — most likely prodded by Penske’s PR people — noted the distraction the accident has caused this week.

“The unfortunate part about what happened on Sunday is that it has overshadowed a win by the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and an overall solid performance by Penske Racing at Atlanta”

But all of this bragging about Kurt Busch’s performance wouldn’t necessarily exist if it weren’t for the addition to Steve Addington to the No. 2 Penske team. Even Busch made sure to mention the contribution Addington has already made in this short partnership during his post race interview. It seems the two are having little trouble learning to work together.

“With Steve Addington and all his new ideas, I never knew how we could mesh them together and how soon we were able to do it. We were able to get it right and hit just perfect with the marks today,” Busch said. “Even on all the restarts at the end, I just felt like we had the car to beat. We were racing that (No.) 9 car today and it’s great to bring home Miller Lite on top.”

And mesh together the two have done. It was funny how things fell into place, really. Kurt Busch’s crew chief Pat Tryson had already announced he would be leaving Penske Racing at the end of the 2009 season to crew chief for Martin Truex, Jr.‘s No. 56 Toyota at Michael Waltrip Racing (a step down, if you ask me, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about), and Joe Gibbs Racing released Steve Addington with just three races remaining in the 2009 season. But it wasn’t easy trying to get to Addington about the open crew chief position.

Steve Addington was released from Joe Gibbs Racing with just three races remaining in the 2009 season, but the younger of the Busch brothers wanted nothing to do with giving his older brother Addington’s number.

“The funny story of it is the day that Kyle learned that Steve Addington was going to be making a change or Gibbs was going to be making a change, we were doing a family portrait for our Christmas cards. I said, can you give me Steve’s number? He told me to go find it on my own. So it was cute that I was there the day the news broke and I found out before anybody. Sometimes the world circles around, and that’s the way that it works.”

There was a lot of concern from Kurt Busch fans during the offseason about Steve Addington. They claimed he was an average crew chief at best and that Kyle Busch was making him look better than he was. But if that’s the case, why exactly does Kyle have just one top 10 finish in the seven races since Addington’s departure versus the three top 5 finishes he added to his resume during his final seven races working with Steve?

Simple.

Steve Addington is an underrated crew chief who has been able to do something in the first four races of the 2010 season that Pat Tryson couldn’t seem to figure out during the entire 2009 season. With the exception of Atlanta, in each race so far this season, the setup for the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was off at the beginning of the race. Through communication and know-how on Steve’s part, Kurt Busch got the adjustments he needed to improve his position on the track, and that’s the first step in becoming a championship contender.

There’s no doubt that Steve Addington is happy to have won with Kurt Busch before Kyle Busch and Dave Rogers did.

“You know, it feels good. It honestly feels good to be with this race team, with Kurt as the driver, and come back and win before the 18 car got a chance to win. That’s a personal deal,” Addington said. “You know, and the thing that really I feel good about was when all that went down, I mean, I’m at a point, let’s move on past that. But this guy right here, he’s the first one that called, you know. So it’s a good feeling to know that the driver wants you to come over here and go to work for him. That’s the most satisfying thing, is to get him to Victory Lane.”

Despite all of the madness that has surrounded the Edwards/Keselowski incident and stolen the spotlight from Kurt Busch and the No. 2 team, they deserve a congratulations for a job well done. Maybe Busch and Steve Addington will get to celebrate their next win out in the open instead of hidden in the shadow of the next “rivalry” that’s going on.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

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Michael in SoCal
03/11/2010 12:07 PM
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Yup – Kurt Busch and Steve Addington won. But that still doesn’t change the fact that his new paint scheme is just about the ugliest one out there. And his old regular scheme from last year was a shining example of classic lines for a race car.

Beth
03/11/2010 12:28 PM
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I don’t disagree with you on that at all. I wish they would have stuck last year’s paint scheme.

Kevin in SoCal
03/11/2010 01:30 PM
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Does anyone else think it ironic that a crew chief gets praised for making changes during the race to make the car better, but nobody says anything about why the car was so far off of a good setup at the start of a race? Kurt Busch won the pole for Las Vegas and promptly dropped thru the order as fast as Dale Jr did this week at Atlanta. What’s up with that?

Beth
03/11/2010 06:29 PM
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Oh believe me I noticed. I don’t pick on crew chiefs for their setup at the beginning of a race because track conditions can vary widely from practice to race day. A setup that was spot on during practice could be completely off once the green flag flies. But the important thing is that a crew chief can make the changes to improve the car, and that’s something Pat Tryson struggled with throughout the 2009 season.

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer