News & Media

Engine issue derails Hamlin's top challenger

September 24, 2012, David Caraviello,

Busch stumbles to 28th-place finish after leading 48 laps early at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. -- All Dave Rogers could do was shake his head.

"Man, if it can happen this year, it's going to happen," Kyle Busch's crew chief said after Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "Odds are, it can happen to the 18 car."

"Man, if it can happen this year, it's going to happen. Odds are, it can happen to the 18 car."


Something certainly happened Sunday, which Rogers and his Joe Gibbs Racing team were still trying to figure out. A vehicle which shaped up as the top challenger to eventual race winner Denny Hamlin began dropping back at around the halfway point, the victim of an engine problem that would put Busch two laps down. After leading 48 laps, second only to the 193 led by his JGR teammate Hamlin, Busch wound up in 28th place instead of pushing his stable mate for the victory.

Afterward, Rogers was still trying to figure out why.

"Something went through the motor and knocked out a spark plug," Rogers said after he and engineers checked data from the car's electronic control unit. "... We pulled the plug out, and something had knocked the end of a plug off, because there were a lot of metal shavings in there. So I'm not sure if something broke in the motor and came up and hit the plug, or if we somehow passed debris through the air filter. But something, somehow got in the motor and knocked out a plug."

Debris coming up through the air filter would be a rare occurrence, Rogers admitted. But the crew chief wouldn't be surprised by anything in a season where back-to-back engine failures effectively kept Busch out of the Chase. Small solace: Busch finished fourth in the playoff opener last weekend at Chicagoland, and seemed the only driver able to challenge Hamlin before Sunday's problem intervened.

"I'm fairly happy with our program, where we run on the race track," Rogers said. "I wish we could lead more laps. But man, it's the big things that are getting us and taking us out of races. We don't have a whole lot of DNFs, but we've had a lot of races like today where we salvage a 30th-place finish."

Hamlin dominated Sunday's event, rallying from a 32nd-place starting position and pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a final restart with 22 laps remaining. Had Busch's car been at full strength, would the No. 18 have had anything for the No. 11 at the end?

"I thought we were getting closer," Rogers said. "But Denny, believe it or not, he's a cagey veteran, so you never know how much he's holding and how much he's showing. They were the class of the field all weekend. They should have sat on the pole, led every lap, and won the race, to come up through traffic like he did. I don't know if we had a car strong enough to do that. So I think the best car won. But I think we might have been able to give him a run for his money."