News & Media

McDowell, Rogers find silver lining on rough day

November 06, 2011, Joe Menzer,

FORT WORTH, Texas -- No. 18 team fought handling issues all day and struggled to a 33rd-place finish

It wasn't the kind of weekend Dave Rogers had envisioned by a long shot, pretty much from start to finish.

But in the end, the crew chief for the No. 18 Toyota normally driven by Kyle Busch sounded like a man who could live with the end result and move on as best as humanly possible. Despite entering the weekend tied with Kevin Harvick as the driver with the most victories this season in the Sprint Cup Series, Busch spent Sunday afternoon and early evening sitting next to Rogers on the No. 18 pit box after getting parked by NASCAR for deliberately wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution during Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

"I think Michael did a really nice job. It's a difficult situation to get in someone else's race car at the last minute."


Normally, Busch would have been driving the No. 18 in the AAA Texas 500. Instead, he watched from the pit box as he became one of three drivers who were mathematically eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup by evening's end (Denny Hamlin, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Ryan Newman were the others).

Busch apologized to his team, JGR as a whole, his fans and basically the entire racing community in an open letter released by his public-relations team Saturday night. He did not speak to the media Sunday, and has not spoken publicly since NASCAR announced on Saturday morning its decision to park him for both Saturday's Nationwide Series race and Sunday's Sprint Cup event.

The No. 18 car was driven Sunday by Michael McDowell, a last-minute substitute driver with limited Cup experience who struggled to finish 33rd, three laps down.

"I just feel sorry for Kyle," Rogers said. "He knows he made a mistake. I think he addressed that. I think he put a lot of time and thought into his press release. It came from the heart."

Rogers said Busch ended up on the pit box Sunday only after placing a difficult phone call to the crew chief and asking for permission to do so during an emotional team meeting Saturday night.

"He called me [Saturday] night and said, 'Hey, I'd really like to talk to the team. Can I come over for a team meeting?' And he asked permission. I said, 'Yeah, sure, come on over.' In the team meeting, he told the guys how he felt and leveled with them," Rogers said. "He didn't sugarcoat nothing; he just told what was on his mind -- and then he asked the guys ... he said, 'Hey, I want to be here. I want to sit on that pit box with you. Do you guys mind?' And it was a unanimous [answer]: 'Yes, please do it.'

"Kyle had an option to get on an airplane and fly back to Charlotte and feel sorry for himself. And he didn't. He knew he let this race team down. He took it very personal, and he was there with us the whole race. He was up there talking to us, offering suggestions. He came and patted Michael on the back after the race. Under these circumstances, that's the best way he could handle it. All things considered, I'm proud of how Kyle reacted [Sunday]."

McDowell, meanwhile, was left with the difficult task of trying to drive a car with which he was unfamiliar. He admitted he was disappointed with his finish in a car that Busch had won with four times this season. He also admitted there was some pressure in trying to sit in for a driver in Busch who has registered a total of 104 wins across NASCAR's top three national touring series, even though, at 26, Busch is five months younger than McDowell, who will turn 27 next month.

"We know the expectations," McDowell said. "There are not a lot of people in our sport who have won 100 races, so obviously you're filling big shoes.

"For me, it's just a matter of I gave it all I had. My ability is not going to change over night. You get into a car. You haven't worked with the crew chief. It's pretty tough."

Rogers said McDowell has no reason to hang his head.

"I think Michael did a really nice job," Rogers said. "It's a difficult situation to get in someone else's race car at the last minute. Never working with the team, never having worked with the crew chief, it's tough to hit on it. It was tough for me [Sunday] morning, trying to make adjustments to the car, figuring out what Michael needed.

"You had that relationship with your primary driver with Kyle. When we end Happy Hour, we talk. And we have our own lingo. I have some direction to go in for race day. Working with a new driver like Michael, it's tough. And I just missed the setup a little bit."


Kyle Busch was parked in the Truck Series race at Texas after he retaliated under caution with Ron Hornaday, ending Hornaday's title hopes.

McDowell was not the only JGR driver to struggle, and tried to keep his poor finish in perspective. Denny Hamlin finished 20th, one lap down; and Joey Logano, whose engine blew up, was credited with 37th after completing just 258 of the race's 334 laps.

"We were hoping for more, but for me it was just great," McDowell said, smiling. "I was planning on doing 20 laps this weekend [in a start-and-park ride], so I think I did 310 more than I was planning on. And it was a great opportunity to work with a great team and just see how they do things a little bit different."

Rogers said he also appreciated the fact that McDowell did not damage the race car.

"You look at the car and there's not a scratch on it," Rogers said. "It's a brand-new race car. The worst thing that could have happened to us would have been for Michael to get anxious with it and tear it up. That puts us far behind. He didn't do that. He did a nice job for us. I know he's disappointed, but he shouldn't be. He did a really good job."

Under the strange circumstances of a crazy weekend, Rogers said it was about the best the team could have hoped for -- after what transpired with Busch.

"You never change your objective, but you change your goals," Rogers said. "Our objective is to provide the best race car possible at all times, but you have to be realistic with your goals. These guys that race on Sunday are the best in the business. They race hard lap after lap. They take a lot of chances and when you put another guy in and ask him to just bring the car home with all four fenders -- he's not going to take those chances. He's not going to push it that hard.

"And then I missed the setup on it. We wanted to finish higher than we did, but we're happy to come home with a race car in one piece that we can work with. I think Michael did a great job. I just think the lack of time together and knowing what he needed, that hurt us a little bit and you saw it in our finishing position."