Crew swap results in unexpected dismal performance

Photo by Ashley R. Dickerson/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor
JOLIET, Il – A decision to put the best Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew with Kyle Busch in hopes of increasing his chances of winning the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title may have backfired at Chicagoland Speedway, on Sunday, but aside from addressing mistakes, don’t expect any reversals heading into New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Busch led all but two laps to dominate and win the first stage of the first playoff race but after pitting for tires and fuel on Lap 83 he had to return to pit road because of a loose wheel. That’s when he was his with a penalty because NASCAR deemed one of his crewmembers went over the wall too soon on the stop. He would end serving a pass-through penalty and racing two laps down in 30th place. Even though Busch’s car was fast, it wasn’t fast enough to make up both laps and he end the race one lap down in 15th place. Not the disaster it could have been since five other playoff drivers finished even worse.

“Three top 15’s in a row should transfer you through this first round but 15th is going to hurt on the points that you are going to need – stage points, wins – for that third round,” a disappointed Busch said, after climbing out of the car.

As for the crew issue, Busch said he would address it when the team meets this week.

“We all made this decision together, so we are all in it together. So, I’ve got to talk to Joe (Gibbs) and figure out what we are going to do,” he said. “We’ve got to move on, there’s nothing we can do right now.”

Gibbs spoke with Kickin’ the Tires following the race, conceding the results were not what he and everyone else anticipated. He said sometimes things go well and other times they don’t and he believes the crew will rebound from their blunders during the race.

“Each week, we always try and make the best decision going forward on what we think is best for our teams,” Gibbs said. “We definitely felt like this was the way to go. You make a lot of decisions in pro sports and you hope they go the right way, sometimes they don’t. That crew is a battle-tested crew, so it’s uncharacteristic for them.

“We’ll talk. For the next two days, we have meetings and Tuesday at 10:30 (a.m.) we have all of our drivers, crew chiefs, everybody. We’ll study everything. I think we all kind of program each and every week what we think is best. We felt like this was the best way for us to start.”

Since he had shown everyone how strong his car was in the first segment, it turned out Busch’s pit crew was all his competitors needed to relegate him to a lackluster finish. Despite the outcome, Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, still believes the swap was the right decision.

“I feel confident we made the right decision, we just didn’t have a very good day on pit road,” Stevens said. “I am just one man, I don’t have the ultimate say. It was a company decision to make the change we made and I don’t expect that to change.

“It was just piss poor execution all around. We made a lot of mistakes on pit road and when you make back-to-back mistakes it is tough to recover from them. At a track like this, everybody knows you are going to get longer green flag runs so you are not going to get a lot of cautions to get those laps back. We had a fast car, the best car I have ever been a part of here, just not much to show for it.”

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