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Dave Rogers: As Kyle Busch's new crew chief, he's got big shoes to fill...and a lot of pressure to deal with

  Dave Rogers: Smart enough, heck yes. But tough enough to handle Kyle Busch? That may be the question (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   No, Dave Rogers hasn't talked with fellow crew chief Tony Eury Jr., or even ex-crew chief Larry McReynolds, about the foibles – and downsides -- of having to work with a famous and famously talented driver.
   But Rogers has talked with Lance McGrew, who now runs Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team, and he says he'll be talking more with McGrew, and with Juan Pablo Montoya's suddenly successful crew chief Brian Pattie.
   And Rogers, now Kyle Busch's new crew chief, may need all the help he can get in dealing with the highly talented but notoriously petulant Busch…who won 12 NASCAR Cup tour events the past two seasons with crew chief Steve Addington, who was just suddenly dropped by team manager J. D. Gibbs for still uncertain reasons, despite four wins this year and only missing the championship chase by eight points.
   Busch himself says the goal every week is to beat Jimmie Johnson and to prove to everyone in the sport that he has the top team in the sport.
   Not too much pressure here for Rogers, is there?
   Rogers has been an integral part of the Gibbs operation for many years now, and for several years he was chief engineer for Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli.
   Now, after dominating the Nationwide tour the past two years, Rogers has the perhaps unenviable job – cue Tony Eury Jr. for some ad libs about the perils of the job ahead – of running Busch's Cup team.
   If Busch wins, he's supposed to win. If Busch doesn't win, hey, blame the crew chief. Sort of like what Busch himself had to say about Earnhardt-Eury-McGrew: "If Junior doesn't run well, then he (the crew chief) is going to be the problem again. It's never Junior; it's always the crew chief."
   So is Rogers really ready for all this?
   Is Rogers really tough enough to handle Kyle Busch?
   "We'll see," Rogers says with a smile.
   Hey, dealing with Kyle Busch is not going to be easy…but now Rogers also has to deal with the controversial car-of-tomorrow, which is much more difficult to wrestle with than those Nationwide cars.
   Life is about to get harder, much harder.
   "I've been taking a crash course in COT racing," Rogers was saying Friday while preparing for Texas 500 qualifying, his first official outing with Busch. "I've spent a lot of time with my setup guys and my car chief just trying to figure out these cars, what the rules are, how we set them up…just trying to learn the race car itself."
   Welcome to the club, Dave.
   And, hate to break the news, but you'd better start winning pretty quickly.
   "I don't have any expectations," Rogers insists. "The key this weekend is to start to learn Kyle, start to learn the COT, gel with the crew, work on our communications. We're just building connection here. 
    "If we could run top-five (Sunday), that would be fantastic. But we're not going to be disappointed if we can't do that."
    Well, maybe Rogers won't, but Busch probably will be.
   That Joe and J. D. Gibbs would drop Addington so suddenly stunned everyone in the sport. Only one team has won more races the past two years than Addington and Busch.
    Rogers concedes he was "slightly surprised." But he pointed out "Everything changes so fast around here. You learn in this sport to never be surprised with anything."
   And what about Addington?
   "I'm disappointed for Steve," Rogers says. "Steve Addington is a wonderful person.  He's got more character than any other guy I've ever met. 
    "He has given me every note he's ever taken.  He's given me his thought-process and why he's working on these things, what he's been doing, the pit falls that I could run into.
    "He's given me more advice than I could ever ask for. 
    "I think the world of that guy.  He's a great guy."
    And certainly Addington has offered more than a few words of wisdom – and warning – about Rogers' new driver.
    "I'm probably going to have to take some beatings from him," Rogers says. "We all know he can be verbal…and I'm probably going to have to give a few back.
    "I'm very flexible until I reach my limit.  I have a limit.
    "But it's going to be a good working relationship.  I have no concerns…and I'm looking forward to it."
    After living the high life on the Nationwide side, where he was king of the hill, Rogers is suddenly being thrust into a minefield of a grind.
   Rogers admits the move "was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made.
    "Life (on the Nationwide side) was very good when they were running well, and I had Sundays at home with my wife and kids. Life was great.  I couldn't have asked for anything better. 
    "I didn't have to come over here and do this.  I just didn't need to do it. But when the opportunity came up, and you realize Kyle is a driver, and you look at the engineering staff, you just couldn't pass the opportunity up."
    So the question Rogers now may face is this – can he out-think, out-work, and out-wit rival crew chief Chad Knaus and the Johnson team?
   After all, that's the precise goal that Busch has set.
   This isn't Rogers' first rodeo on the Cup side. He was promoted to crew chief for the Gibbs' then-new third team in 2005, with Jason Leffler at the wheel. The team floundered, never really caught fire even; first Rogers was out, then Leffler too. 
   "I failed," Rogers says succinctly. "There's no doubt about it.
    "I think you learn more from your failures than you do your successes.  Certainly I learned a lot through that experience. It will make me a better crew chief now."
    One thing Rogers has learned is to "level the emotions."
    "Not getting as high when things are good, and not getting as low when things are bad," he says.
    Why this move, why now?
    Rogers hinted that he was ready to make a move back up to Cup one way or the other, and that other teams might have been interested in him, forcing the Gibbs to make a move quickly, before the end of season.   
    "The way my career was going in Nationwide, the way we were performing, it seemed inevitable offers would come, and the temptation (to move on and take one) would come," Rogers said. "This deal worked out because Kyle Busch is driving the car. 
    "I have a lot of confidence in Kyle Busch.  I think a lot of him as a person and as a driver. 
     "It just made sense that if you're going to do it -- if you're ever going to go Cup racing, and you've got an opportunity to do it with one of the best drivers in the business, you better do it."
   More than that, you'd better succeed too.

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