A lot of headlines are made whenever Kyle Busch wins. His latest Saturday night at the Kentucky Speedway might not have come as handedly as it did if not for one person. Not the talent behind the wheel but the sometimes forgotten man atop the pit box.
If your name isn’t Chad Knaus or whoever the latest scapegoat for Dale Earnhardt Jr. is, then as a crew chief it’s easy to be overlooked. Drivers get most of the praise for their on track actions while thanking and praising their team in victory lane. The crew chief on the other hand gets most of the credit for race strategy and making proper adjustments.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”216″][/media-credit]At Kentucky Dave Rogers not only did that better than the competition, he made them look bad. Rogers gave Busch a car that led 125 of 267 laps on the way to their third win of the season. They became the inaugural winners at the speedway in the Sprint Cup Series.
In his post race interview Busch was more than willing to give Rogers all the credit and with good reason. Busch is now working with the man who helped Joey Logano become the king of Kentucky in the Nationwide Series.
In 2008-09 Logano captured two straight poles and wins with Rogers. Logano would eventually go on to earn three straight poles and wins but the third came with a different crew chief. Busch now believes that because of Rogers he has that same success.
“It feels awesome to be able to come out here and run the way we did,” said Busch. “To unload the way we did off the hauler. Dave and all the guys, all the engineers back in the shop did a phenomenal job with our racecar, to be fast right out of the gates.”
Fast wasn’t the word. During Thursday’s test sessions where drivers had up to six hours on track, there were times when Busch appeared to be in a league of his own. His time and speed impressed many, as it looked like the 18 team weren’t even breaking a sweat.
Rogers while right in crediting the engineers, also deserves the praise for the way the car was built. He enabled the team to head to the track already with a plan in mind; they just needed to executive it.
“We came off the truck really close to setup,” he said. “Sometimes that’s bad. We came off the truck really close and actually sat out [of practice] a little bit, [we] wanted to give Kyle a breather.”
During that time teammate Denny Hamlin got behind the wheel of the 18 while Busch went and drove the No. 20 of Logano. As the competition was hard at work trying to learn the new facility, the JGR team was playing driver swap. All three crew chiefs would be able to compare notes later.
“We didn’t focus on our lap times practicing,” said Rogers. “We focused on what we needed to race. [He] gave me some good feedback after the truck race and made adjustments to our primary car yesterday morning.”
During the official practice sessions Busch was again atop the speed charts. When qualifying was rained out his speed was what put him on the pole for Saturday’s race. And just like in practice, Rogers said not much was done to the car once the race started.
It left Busch “pretty confident that we were the car to beat. Whether you stay the car to beat is the next question because how long this race is, how you change from daytime to twilight to nighttime. The track goes through a lot of different changes.”
While other drivers may not have had race experience at Kentucky, most in the field have tested at the facility before. A few, like Busch, have competed in the Camping World Truck and NNS races in the past. There were also the aforementioned test sessions to help every driver find some sort of level playing field.
Nothing though beats experience as Busch says. And that’s just as important for a crew chief. Rogers knew what the track was going to do, how it was going to change. As the race wound down he already had an understanding and an all-important notebook of how the car might react and what he would need to do.
“Dave had to do a lot of thinking on his own,” said Busch. “I was telling him the car is good, but he would still make a change knowing what the track is going to do. That’s just experience. Knowing this racetrack pretty well, for us it worked well. We kept up with it.
“We stayed up front all the night, made it seem easy, but certainly it wasn’t. There at the end there was a couple tense moments, but we prevailed.”