Back to Where it All Began
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 1, 2011) – Two years ago this very weekend, at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Dave Rogers made his debut as crew chief for Kyle Busch and the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), sitting atop the pit box for the final three races of 2009 before embarking on his first full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in 2010.
While many crew chiefs would have been content to take their time getting acquainted with their new team, Rogers not only excelled during his debut, he was determined to win his first Sprint Cup race with the talented Las Vegas native behind the wheel. Adding pressure to the situation, Busch was coming off back-to-back wins in Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series and Saturday’s Nationwide Series races and was shooting for his first weekend sweep of NASCAR’s top three national series, a feat he would eventually reach in 2010 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway with Rogers calling the shots.
With his Texas Truck Series and Nationwide wins in his pocket, Busch looked like he was well on his way to the weekend sweep when the green flag flew for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. He led six times for a race-high 232 laps while out-dueling older brother Kurt for the majority of the 500-mile race. But as luck would have it, the fuel mileage numbers didn’t work in the No. 18 team’s favor and Busch’s tank ran dry just three laps short of victory, forcing him to pit road for a splash of gas. An eventual 11th-place finish was all he would get.
In the two years since, the combination of Busch and Rogers has proven to be a potent one as the duo has scored seven wins, 24 top-five finishes and 37 top-10s, along with a whopping 2,943 laps led over the course of 72 starts together. Most importantly, the pair has formed a relationship of mutual respect and friendship on and off the track.
The pair heads back to the Lone Star State this weekend for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Sprint Cup event hoping to rebound from what can best be described as terrible luck over the last two races. After a solid second-place finish three weeks ago at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, the M&M’s team looked as though it would be a serious threat for the 2011 Sprint Cup title, sitting just 19 points behind leader Carl Edwards with five races remaining at the time.
But two weeks in a row – at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – Busch found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time while being collected in accidents not of his own doing, leading to disappointing 33rd- and 27th-place finishes, respectively.
So while Busch and the M&M’s team may have had their championship hopes dimmed in recent weeks, a chance at a victory is never too much of a longshot for a team that has grown tremendously under the guidance of Rogers. Besides, the crew chief has shown everyone just what he is capable of right from the very start.
KYLE BUSCH, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve had success at Texas Motor Speedway, recently. Are you getting more comfortable there each time you go back?
“It used to not be so much. I had some wild races there early on in my career and it wasn’t one of my favorite places, for whatever reason. Things have gone well, recently. Obviously, the Nationwide Series wins the last several years and getting the win in the Truck Series the last couple of years have been real confidence-boosters there. I have sort of learned how to drive it a little bit better and I know what I need in my racecar to make it easier. The cars that JGR has given me since I joined the team have also been a confidence-booster there. We had a dominant car there for Dave’s (Rogers, crew chief) first race with this team a couple of years ago and we just came up short on fuel. I can’t seem to get that win in Cup that’s eluded me, even though we’ve been close. So, hopefully, that’s something we can change this weekend.”
What has Dave Rogers brought to the table for you as a driver and as the leader of your team?
“Dave has done a really nice job building the team and the team has been right there following him every step of the way. It takes leadership. It takes guys believing in the program, which I feel like we’re at, so we’ll see how it goes. You’ve got to have a crew chief or a guy you can communicate with and I feel like I have that with Dave – one you can trust and one you can talk to and one who makes changes that are for the better. You come down pit road, you ask for a change or you’re telling them the car is not doing something and they make a change and you get it better. I have the confidence in Dave that, every time I come down pit road, he’s going to take my feedback and make the car better, and nine times out of 10 he does that for me.”
How fast of a racetrack is Texas Motor Speedway?
“It is a fast racetrack. Texas was really hard for me at the beginning with the Cup cars, for some reason. I took to it right off the bat in the Nationwide stuff. We’ve kind of correlated some of that information back and forth and, having the cars from Jason Ratcliff (JGR Nationwide Series crew chief) and from Dave Rogers being as good as they’ve been, we’ve been really fast there. It’s a fun place. It’s really challenging because of the flatness of the corners, getting into the corners, and then they’re so banked through the turns, and then the exits of the corners kind of fall off really quickly. That was always really weird for me to try to figure out because lateral grip seems to go away so fast on the exit of the turns, you kind of want to be straight by that point. It’s an interesting facility. Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta all might look exactly the same, but they drive nothing alike. It keeps you on your toes.”
What would a Sprint Cup win at Texas mean to you?
“That’s something we want to do – I want to do before I’m done. Hopefully, I have a long time to get there. It would be nice to win there at Texas. Charlotte is at the top of my list of tracks I’d like to win at, but Texas isn’t far behind.”
Dave Rogers, Crew Chief of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry:
What have you learned about Kyle since you started working with him exactly two years ago?
“He’s (Kyle Busch) just an amazing talent. He has a great feel for a racecar, but all racecar drivers at this level – their mind reacts so quickly, but Kyle’s more so, in particular. He can tell you everything the car is doing at every exact spot on the track and that’s what makes him so good. His processor speed is very high. He can process a lot of information very quickly. Things happen so fast that you have to be able to think and react and go with the gut. Kyle is very exceptional at that. I think I get to see a side of him that not a lot of people get to see. As far as our relationship, we have a lot of respect for each other and I think that’s what has made it work so well for us. The more time we have together and experiences to learn from, the better we are going to be.”
How do you chalk up your bad luck the last two weeks at Talladega and Martinsville?
“It’s not just Martinsville – it’s life. In life, you have to go through tests and last year we were in the Chase and we had a number of tests come our way and, quite frankly, we didn’t handle them that well. I think, as a team, we’ve handled a lot of tests this year really well, but none in the Chase. Now the Chase comes and we’ve been dealt a lot of tests and I’m really proud of how this team has handled it. I haven’t seen people hang their heads. I haven’t seen people complaining. I haven’t seen Kyle get frustrated. We just go to the racetrack and work as hard as we can. Martinsville was another one of those tests and it clearly hurt any realistic shot at winning a championship this year. There’s still a chance – we won’t give up – but realistically we know it’s over. But in the end – a year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now – this will make us better people and a better race team and that’s how you go forward.”