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Did You Notice? Busch Brothers Burn Crew Chiefs Out, Officiating Mistakes & NASCAR on WWE?

Did You Notice? Both Busch brothers caused their crew chiefs to burn out at the same time? It’s ironic that NASCAR’s moodiest siblings are transitioning to new head wrenches after a similar time span: about two years. That’s how long Steve Addington worked with Kyle Busch, taking him to 12 wins and one Chase appearance, while Tryson led Kurt Busch to four and two, respectively (Tryson came on board with Busch in mid-2007).

But working with such successful drivers has its downside. As we’ve seen from both Kyle and Kurt on the radio, they have a tendency to get angry and downright abusive when the car’s handling doesn’t go their way. For Kurt, there’s the infamous incident at Martinsville last year in which his car was “so bad” (that’s the G-rated version) he threatened to stop driving it, spurring owner Roger Penske to get on the radio and set him straight.

As for Kyle, his scanner turns NC-17 at least once every two races. Even fans of the guy who listen to him on the scanner might not want to admit it, but they’re nodding their heads in agreement right now. I had the Martinsville weekend off, so I wasn’t perusing the scanner then but at Charlotte he was saying things that would have made even the late George Carlin blush.

I know that in sports, we expect this type of talk to come from frustrated athletes. But imagine yourself in your full-time office job for a second. How would you feel if once a week, someone else came in and spent the day totally berating you? Regardless of whether you were successful or not, they disparaged your work, insulted your mother, and spent the day swearing and carrying on about the most minor problems – all in the name of “being at your competitive best.”

Chances are you’d be gone within a few months, right? Well, it’s amazing that Steve Addington lasted two years. Ditto for Tryson, as Kurt Busch is now on his fourth full-time crew chief since going over to Penske in 2006. The only man capable of keeping Kurt in line was old school, tough-as-nails Jimmy Fennig, a man who’s notorious for not taking any flak from his drivers. But considering one of the reasons Kurt Busch left Roush back in 2005 is he didn’t feel like he would ever be the “number one” driver within that organization, is it any wonder a growing independence left their relationship heading in the wrong direction at the end?

As for younger brother Kyle and previous crew chief Alan Gustafson, all accounts are Kyle was a different guy when he first moved into the Cup Series in 2005, cockiness coming hand-in-hand with success achieved in ’06 and the first part of ’07. Had Busch stayed at Hendrick, you wonder if Gustafson would have remained crew chief there in 2008 because he seemed to be at his wits’ end by the time the two parted ways.

The moral of the story here: beware, because these partnerships don’t seem to be built to last. And so it was with Addington, who could never quite get the feedback needed to dial in the No. 18 Toyota on intermediate tracks this year. In the end, that’s what led to their on-track unraveling, as this quick list of stats will show you:

Kyle Busch 2009 Stats

Short Tracks (.5 -.99 Mi.): 6 starts, 3 wins, 5 top fives, 5 top 10s
Restrictor-Plate Superspeedways (2.5-2.66 Mi.): 3 starts, 0 top 10s (131 laps led)
Pocono & Indianapolis (2.5 Mi.): 3 starts, 0 top 10s (admittedly two of Busch’s worst tracks)
Road Courses: 2 starts, 1 top five, 1 top 10
1-Mile Ovals: 5 starts, 1 top five, 2 top 10s
Intermediates (1.5-2 Mi.): 13 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 4 top 10s (with one top 10 and just 33 laps led in seven starts since Memorial Day)

Considering those intermediates make up five of 10 tracks in the Chase, it’s a no brainer JD Gibbs wanted to try something new to turn things around. The question will be whether Dave Rogers can be the type of personality capable of dealing with Busch when he starts rampaging inside the car. It’s one thing to work with him in the Nationwide Series, where JGR has equipment far and above that of its closest competitors. But when Busch is running 20th with the Hendrick cars about to lap him, unleashing a verbal tirade that would make your grandmother blush, how will he react? That’s the million-dollar question (literally, considering how much of a difference there is between 12th and 13th in points these days). Also keep in mind Rogers’s Cup record is far from stellar, with a grand total of zero top-five finishes in less than one season working with beleaguered driver Jason Leffler.

In the end, it’s a change Gibbs felt they had to make. But you wonder if letting Rogers work with Joey Logano while Greg Zipadelli – a no-nonsense guy used to dealing with a temperamental driver – would have been a better fit. Because the only guy that wins when you pair a G-rated crew chief with Kyle Busch is the doctor who’ll end up prescribing him anti-depressants.

Did You Notice? NASCAR was having a bit of a problem assessing penalties consistently at Martinsville? There were two blatant incidents in particular that disturbed me. First up was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s flat tire that caused the third caution of the day, one where Junior stopped on the track to get one on lap 90. The circumstances were similar to when Denny Hamlin stopped on the track last May, trying desperately to force a yellow after dominating Richmond until a flat right-front tire ruined his night.

Here’s the difference: in that scenario, as NASCAR usually does, Hamlin was penalized an extra lap for “intentionally causing a caution,” as stated in Section 9-11 of the NASCAR rulebook. So my question is Earnhardt’s situation was different… how? Instead of trying to get to pit road, he felt the right move was to stop in the middle of the track… just like Hamlin. The motive in doing so was to keep from losing an additional lap… just like Hamlin. Yet when the cars restarted on lap 94, Earnhardt found himself running on the tail end of the lead lap, seemingly rewarded for his “misdeed” while Hamlin ended his fateful day at Richmond three laps down in 24th.

But that wasn’t the only officiating mistake. On lap 177, replays showed contact with the front bumper of Martin Truex Jr. caused David Stremme to drift into teammate Sam Hornish Jr. coming off turn 2. In an instant, the No. 77 car lost control, spinning hard into the backstretch wall and causing a caution. As the first car one lap down, that left Truex eligible for the Lucky Dog … except he shouldn’t have gotten it. Again, according to Section 10-4.1 of the NASCAR rules: “A car will not be eligible for the free pass when, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, the car was involved in or the reason for the caution.”

Seems like a pretty cut and dry incident to me – except Truex was back on the lead lap and ready to race through the field five laps later.

Look, in the grand scheme of things neither officiating mistake made a big difference in the outcome of the race. Several melted beads let to flat tires that sidelined Earnhardt, while Truex was never a serious factor and came home 28th, two laps back. But when the sanctioning body is struggling to come to grips with these basic rules, how big a surprise is it they’re showing inconsistency at some of the bigger moments of the race, such as the “mystery” debris cautions of recent weeks or hesitating on throwing the yellow during the final lap – no matter what the situation?

I’m going to leave you to stew on that answer, but the real question is what the sport’s going to do about their officiating. Over in other sports, we’ve seen the SEC step up this week and punish those responsible for missed calls in college football games. But when’s the last time you’ve ever seen NASCAR man up and admit they made a bad call on an in-race decision? Even an apology to some fans and drivers in certain situations would do much to restore the basic respect that should exist between the sport itself and those who follow it.

Unfortunately, right now that respect continues to erode, from the most minor of mistakes to the biggest controversies facing the sport today. And it’s an issue that won’t go away until the sanctioning body does something to address it.

Did You Notice? Jimmie Johnson’s selective speeding on pit road? Juan Pablo Montoya certainly did, and so did the ESPN broadcast crew who noted Johnson’s times were almost one full second faster than Montoya’s during certain stops. What the No. 48 was doing is consistent with their motto since the beginning of their existence: push the rules to the ragged edge without doing enough to get “caught.” Needless to say, Johnson knows exactly where the timing lines are, knowing where he can get away with a few extra mph and when he can’t. And if you pick a pit stall just in front of a timing line, that gives you just enough extra room to have a brief burst of speed that could help you pick off one, two, maybe more cars on pit road.

In Johnson’s defense, he didn’t even need the extra help on Sunday, as his crew never lost him a spot on pit road all day (although their last green-flag stop cost them valuable time to Hamlin on the racetrack). But it’s just another way in which this team finds the “gray areas” within every rule they can to gain an edge.

The problem is, of course, plenty of people might call that “cheating” even though the No. 48 team would tell you they’re playing within the rules. So how do you stop this little advantage? Two ways. The first would be to publicize all pit-road speeding information electronically, with a transponder in the car going off the second a car goes 56 mph (if the limit’s 55) to clearly indicate a penalty. The technology is there to make that process happen … but as we’ve seen, NASCAR doesn’t really like to make all its officiating open to the public (See: Engine Post-Race Inspection).

So I’ve got a second plan that might work. Since they don’t show teams specific areas where they sped anyways… why give any indication where the timing lines are? Make that a secret that only you and your software equipment/providers know heading into each race. Sure, you’ll still let the drivers know where the Pit In and Pit Out lines are, but with no clear markings on the racetrack anywhere else the extra timing lines will be a complete and total mystery. Because the bottom line of it all is if you’re speeding on pit road, you’re speeding on pit road, period. You shouldn’t get to accelerate in between timing lines to sneak ahead, for obvious safety and fairness reasons.

Did You Notice? My new “Quick Hits” Feature before we go…

  • ESPN’s taken a lot of criticism this season, but I can’t get enough of Jeff Burton’s promo about how he describes NASCAR and wrecks. Between the music, the way Burton speaks, and the slow motion replays, my heart’s always pumping by the end. Definitely the best promo they’ve done on the sport this year. And no, it’s NOT because of carnage on TV. It’s because of the way it reminds me how these drivers take it to the ragged edge.
  • Kyle Busch and Logano on WWE? I have to tell you, I was never a wrestling guy, so I’ll admit to journalistic bias here. The second I turned on the program Monday night, I felt my IQ went down 10 points, and all I could do was laugh every two minutes when I thought back to the South Park episode on this very subject two weeks back (I’m sure there’s plenty of fans that know what I’m talking about). But all kidding aside, love or hate wrestling that was one of the best cameos for the sport all year. Yeah, Joey and Kyle looked like two giant dorks up against the pure athletic talent of these wrestlers. But they played their parts well, and introduced the sport in a flashy way to an audience NASCAR is desperately trying to win over: Males 18-34. Maybe, just maybe, a few of those fans will tune in to see those WWE cars race in the Nationwide Series at Texas next week. But no good PR stunt will get rewarded unless there’s a good race attached that’ll leave ‘em coming back for more….

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

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