Crew chief: Busch 'feels terrible' about penalty
November 03, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Another championship contender bites the dust -- or does he?
Kyle Busch's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship hopes took a major hit with a 13th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, seeing the Joe Gibbs Racing driver move up a spot in the standings to fourth, but his points deficit to leader Jimmie Johnson increasing from 36 to 52. If Jeff Gordon's surprise challenge to the points leaders after last week's victory at Martinsville is any indicator, the story of Busch's 2013 Chase could still have chapters left to be written.
For a good portion of the race it looked as if Busch, who declined post-race comment, was going to come back from an early run-in with the wall to salvage a top-five, possibly a top-three, finish. A late pit road penalty for speeding relegated the driver of the No. 18 Toyota to a disappointing result with his toughest competition (Johnson and Matt Kenseth) each placing in the top five.
"Kyle feels terrible today because he sped on pit road late in the race -- but this is a team, and we got his back," said crew chief Dave Rogers. "(The early wreck wasn't too bad), but it was bad enough where it could've ruined our day. He gave us all he had to give us the best finish possible and we took a little bit more than what was there. Like I told Kyle after the race, on a team, everybody is giving 100 percent. And when everybody is giving 100 percent, sometimes they give 100.1, and that point one gets you in trouble."
Unfortunately, it may take Busch giving a constant 100.1 percent at the final two races to overcome the hole he dug at Texas. While his numbers at Phoenix are among the best in the series -- a win and 10 top 10s in 17 starts -- his Homestead numbers aren't as glistening. In six of eight starts at the Miami track he's finished 19th or worse. That said, in last season's finale he placed fourth after leading 191 of 267 laps.
Still, it might take a little bit of luck on his part -- and more than a little bad luck for the 48 and 20 cars -- to make up some of the ground lost.
"Realistically at this point, with two races left, you're probably not going to out-race the 48 and the 20 to accumulate more points than them to win the championship. But anything can happen," said Rogers. "They can speed on pit road. They can have a failure. They can have a wreck. So we're going to give the next two races 100 percent and if them guys stumble a little bit hopefully we can capitalize."
"Over the years, I've learned from experience as soon as you hope for bad luck for someone else, you're on the hook. You never hope for bad luck for a competitor; you want to beat them on the race track."
Even if Busch is unable to catch the power duo at the top, there's still a silver lining to 2013 for the 18 team. Third place may be the consolation prize right now, but it'd be Busch's highest finish ever -- just a year removed from missing the Chase completely. Considering the five-time champion Johnson didn't rein in title No. 1 until age 30, the 28-year-old Busch still has plenty to rest his laurels on if his first doesn't come this year.
"I don't really ever count someone out if there's any kind of outside chance," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "They could get in third still which is a big deal. Then you look at what could happen."
Despite a rough end to what could have been a solid day, nothing changes for how Busch and his crew will approach Phoenix and Homestead.
"It's the same as what we said in the beginning of the Chase. We're going to run as hard as we can for 10 races and at the end we're going to see where the points put us and hopefully it's good enough to be first."