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JGR swaps pit crews for Nos. 18, 19 as Kyle Busch heads into postseason

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The No. 18 pit crew that helped put Kyle Busch into this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs won’t be going over the wall for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver when the championship battle begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

It will be personnel from the No. 19 entry of teammate Daniel Suarez instead.

News of the pit crew swap surfaced Tuesday, a day before Busch met with the press during this year’s Media Day activities at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“It comes down to performance and for us … everybody on the whole organization kind of decided it was a necessary change to give ourselves the best opportunity to go race for a championship,” Busch said Wednesday.

Changing pit crews isn’t unheard of as championship-contending teams attempt to shore up all aspects of their squads heading into the 10-race playoffs. And there have been no indications of such a move having adverse effects.

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Going over the wall for Busch’s Toyota team beginning this week will be tire changers Clay Robinson and Kip Wolfmeir, tire carriers Kevin Harris and Matt VanMeer, jack man Trey Burklin and gas man Kenneth Purcell.

The No. 19 pit crew will now consist of gas man Tom Lampe, tire changers Josh Leslie and Jake Seminara, tire carriers Brad Donaghy and Kenny Barber and jack man TJ Ford.

Suarez did not qualify for the 16-team playoff; Busch, teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth did.

“With all these teams as good as they are you have to come out here with all the bullets in the chamber,” Busch said. “We feel like we’re a little bit short there with the pit crew. We have metrics and things like that that kind of all show that they were just a little bit off, not far but just a little bit. When you need it most you’re going to need to count on those guys and that could be the last stop at Homestead and the fastest pit crew wins, hopefully.”

Busch won the series title in 2015 and made the Championship 4 last season. He enters Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicago third in points, with wins at Pocono and Bristol earlier this year.

Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing) and Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing) are first and second in points. Truex and Larson have four wins each and Busch said Truex has to be considered the favorite.

A different pit crew, he said, could make the difference.

“My guys would have speed but the speed they had was occasional,” Busch said. “The consistency they had was less than stellar. When you can have a faster group and their consistency is better, there’s no question you have to take that.”

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