Joe Gibbs Racing has announced that Dave Rogers will assume crew chief duties of the No. 18 Sprint Cup team starting with the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Steve Addington, Busch’s current crew chief, will be reassigned within the organization, but his new role has not yet been made public.
When Busch joined JGR last season, he and Addington won eight races and posted 17 top 5s, and 21 top 10s. Busch also led the points for 21 of the first 26 races, and he led the points for the 17 races leading up to the Chase. The team appeared unstoppable, and looked to be the odds-on favorite going into the Chase.
But the team faltered, opening the Chase at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a 34th-place finish thanks to a broken sway bar. The very next race at Dover International Speedway, the car started smoking about 150 laps into the race. The problem was thought to be a broken valve, and the engine blew. Busch finished 43rd. In the third race of the chase, at Kansas Speedway, Busch also had problems. The team had trouble diagnosing them, and Busch finished 28th.
In the 6th race of the Chase, Busch had more problems. He complained of brake issues early, then blew a tire and hit the wall. He stayed on track to bring out a caution, and NASCAR penalized him two laps for that. He blew right front tires two more times and finished 29th. He spent most of the Chase hovering between 10th and 12th in the points.
Leading into this season, many expected Busch to back up last year’s dominance. But, he has not. While he has won four races thus far this season, that’s nowhere near the eight he won in the same period a year ago.
Even more surprising, however, is that he has 9 top5s so far this season, compared to 16 during the same period a year ago. Also, up to this point last year, he had eight finishes of 20th or worse, he has 11 this season.
It’s hard to explain Busch’s drop off in performance this season, but it appears that Addington is being blamed. He may not be aggressively blamed for the team’s struggles, but he certainly is passively, because he is being replaced.
A driver doesn’t win 12 races over the last two seasons without being talented, so the only logical conclusions you can draw are that Busch has had a string of bad luck, and that the equipment is not up to par.
Well, you can’t change luck. But, you can attempt to change the equipment. And with that sort of change comes a crew chief change. Just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Maybe Addington is to blame, maybe he isn’t. We won’t know until next season. And, even if Busch does come out of the gate strong, it doesn’t mean that the problems were necessarily with Addington. But, what the team is doing now is not working. I’m not sure a change needed to be made at this point, but I don’t think we’re all privy to the goings on between Addington and Busch. It could be that both sides felt like a change needed to be made.
Enter Dave Rogers, a Nationwide Series crew chief for JGR. He’s in his fourth season as crew chief, and he brought home the Nationwide Series’ owner’s championship in 2008, earning nine victories with four different drivers.
He has not worked as crew chief on a car-of-tomorrow, so the transition could be tough. Still, the people at JGR are willing to take a chance that Rogers can return this team to form. Next season, we’ll see whether they were right or wrong.