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Rogers' call costs Busch chance at championship

September 09, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Rogers' call costs Busch chance at championship
RICHMOND, Va. -- Crew chief 'blew it' when he had driver stay out under caution while Gordon pitted

Dave Rogers, crew chief for driver Kyle Busch, bet on a rainstorm that never came Saturday night and lost a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth for his No. 18 Toyota team in the process.

"I blew it. There's no two ways to look at it," Rogers said.

The pivotal moment came on Lap 277 of the 400-lap race, when the caution came out for precipitation on the track and in the air. On a night when the start of the race was delayed nearly 90 minutes because of a fierce thunderstorm and then another 51 minutes, 45 seconds during a red-flag rain delay, it seemed a solid bet when Rogers ordered Busch to stay on the track because he thought the race would get called.

"We missed. That's it. Plain and simple."

--KYLE BUSCH

At the same time, the No. 24 Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon pitted, taking fuel and four tires. He also got back on the lead lap because he had been the first car one lap down when the caution flag flew. And when the rain showers abated quickly this time and the green flag flew just five laps later, Busch, who needed only to stay within 12 positions of Gordon to clinch a Chase spot, suddenly was in a world of trouble.

Gordon went on the finish second, while the best Busch could muster was 16th. He missed the final Chase wild-card spot by three points in the painful process.

"I'm pretty honest. I evaluate myself as hard as I evaluate my guys, and I gave one up [Saturday]," Rogers said.

Rogers said he looked at his watch and at the radar, and he convinced himself that it was the right call to tell Busch to stay on the track.

"It's simple. I just blew it," Rogers said. "What I saw was that it was past midnight, and I had a feeling if we lost the race track, the race was going to be over. But the bottom line is we were racing the 24 and nobody else. So if I just pitted when they pitted, even if it did rain out, I would have been one position ahead of them, and that would have been enough to secure a spot in the Chase.

"But when the rain came, I started racing for positions and not racing the 24. I got caught up in the moment of getting the best finish I could out of a race, and it ended up costing us.

"The radar, it did not look bad. But it looked worse than it did the first time the track was red-flagged for [nearly 52] minutes. I said, 'If this track is red-flagged for another [52] minutes, this race is over.' In hindsight, it's a really easy call -- and I flat blew it."

Busch answered two brief questions from a television reporter outside the No. 18 hauler following the race, then left the premises quickly.

Asked for his thoughts on missing the Chase that determines the season's champion, Busch said, "We missed. That's it. Plain and simple." Asked what team owner Joe Gibbs told him after the race, Busch added: "Handle it the right way. There's no right way to handle this situation."

Then he hustled off, answering no more questions.

Post-Race Chase Reactions: Busch displeased

Gibbs spent more time with Rogers following the race than he did with Busch or anyone else. The owner and crew chief met for 30 minutes in the lounge of the No. 18 hauler, and afterward Gibbs pledged his belief in the Busch-Rogers union.

"I didn't really talk to Kyle much," Gibbs said. "Dave, I was just up there sharing the disappointment. I think for all of us here, you just feel bad because of all that was put into this. Again, this is pro sports and the best people in the world competing at this level. It can happen to you.

"We're just very disappointed. I hate it for [sponsor] M&Ms and for all of us on the race team -- Kyle, all of us. It was just a real disappointing night."

Both the elder Gibbs and his son J.D. Gibbs, JGR's president, pledged support for Rogers going forward.

"Listen, we love Dave Rogers," Joe Gibbs said. "I've got to tell you, I think he's one of the brightest and the best. ... We were in this together, and I think we have a great tight-knit team here. We all go out together, and if we have a tough night, we all have a tough night together."

"We had a lot of confidence and were really hoping for some good things in the Chase. And I feel like I let them down."

--DAVE ROGERS

J.D. Gibbs added that missing the Chase couldn't be singularly blamed on Rogers' pit call.

"There is a bunch of stuff that happens, that all the teams go through during the course of a year. It's never one thing," he said. "Again, Dave's one of the best leaders in the business. Kyle's one of the best drivers. We just didn't put all the pieces together."

Rogers said he appreciated the support, but he still didn't want to share the blame for what transpired Saturday night.

"I'm tough on myself. I just gave up a chance for a championship for this race team, for Kyle, for everyone at M&Ms, for the 450 employees at Joe Gibbs Racing who have worked so hard this year," Rogers said. "We had a lot of confidence and were really hoping for some good things in the Chase. And I feel like I let them down. That hurts.

"But you know what? They're great guys, and I know they're going to stand behind me. I know there is a great management staff that will stand behind me, a great driver. Now we're just going to stand behind the 11 car [of JGR teammate Denny Hamlin] and try to help them win a championship."

Rogers said he, too, didn't have much to say to Busch in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's debacle. For the first 276 laps of the race, Busch and the No. 18 team seemed to have Gordon covered and the Chase spot secure. Then it all changed in an instant, and they suddenly couldn't recover.

"You know, we were both speechless," Rogers said. "We went up there [in the hauler] and looked at each other and nodded and said, 'We'll talk later.' But we didn't say much. Kyle did a good job of keeping his composure and took it on the chin like a man, and went back to his bus."

Then Rogers commiserated at length with Joe Gibbs, the former NFL head coach who has witnessed all kinds of ups and downs in both professional football and auto racing.

"I work for the greatest team owner in the business," Rogers said shortly after the 30-minute meeting concluded. "He's a guy who's been in the fire and knows how to call 'em, he knows how to win 'em, and he's lost 'em before. He shared some of his failures and some of his successes, and he gave me some words of encouragement.

"And then we talked about how to get better. The goal is to get better every time, and to turn a negative into a positive. So we spent a lot of time talking about that, about what can we do to make this race team stronger and the lessons we learned and how can we become better from it.

"Joe's an awesome guy. I love working for the man. If I was Joe, I probably wouldn't have handled that conversation so graciously. I probably would have been yelling and screaming at me. But he's wonderful. He gave me some words of encouragement and left it at that."