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Joe Gibbs gives Kyle Busch a new contract, taking that issue off the table at Daytona

  Kyle Busch (L) and crew chief Dave Rogers (Photo: Toyota)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Kyle Busch – and no surprise here – has just signed a new "long term" contract with Joe and J. D. Gibbs to stay in the seat of their NASCAR stockers.
   And that's quite a relief for crew chief Dave Rogers, the man who – having replaced big-winner Steve Addington in the waning stages of 2009 – is now charged with keeping Busch winning on the Sprint Cup tour. "It's good we have that settled and don't have to talk about that during the season," Rogers says.
   "I've been with Joe Gibbs for 11 years and I wholeheartedly believe in where this team is going. And when sitting down with Kyle, before accepting this position, I understood that he also wholeheartedly understood where this company is going.
   "So in my mind this has been done, really, for a while."
   Busch, considered by some as the most talented driver in the sport today, still hasn't won a championship, though he's won more Cup races than anyone else but Jimmie Johnson the past two years. So Rogers has the perhaps unenviable task of getting Busch one of those trophies.
   Rogers, an engineer by trade (Clarkson College, in upstate New York), insists he's game for the task.
   But does Busch need to polish his persona? Would that help his title hopes?
  Rogers says he's not worried about that part of Busch's game. "As long as Kyle brings 'Rowdy' to the track every Sunday, we're fine," Rogers says with a grin.
  And for those who might have worried that Rogers wasn't up to the job of handling the volatile Busch, well, it's looking like Rogers is just feisty enough to keep the reins on his driver. After all they have worked together quite successfully on the Nationwide side.
  "If I didn't think Kyle and I could pair up and do a decent job, I wouldn't have taken this job," Rogers says.
   "I was having a lot of run in the Nationwide series; we had a successful program, we had some great sponsors, we had the equipment we needed...and I had Sundays off with my wife and two boys. Life was great; I had no reason to leave.
   "But when this opened up, it was impossible to pass up.
   "If I thought there would be strife between Kyle and me, I would not have taken this position. There was too much good on the other side.
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  Joe Gibbs re-signs Kyle Busch. Gibbs seems to thrive on wild-child drivers. Still, it's still surprising that Rick Hendrick let Busch get away (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   "I sat down with Kyle (last fall) prior to taking this position, and we talked about short-term goals and long-term goals," Rogers went on. "We talked about strengths and weaknesses, his and mine. And I thought we got on the same page.
   "We have to develop our relationship. Because we know we're going to fall on tough times. We know there will be times he'll be frustrated with me and me with him. But I know Kyle has my back...
   "As long as we develop that relationship, where we don't take that personally...so we can go back to the shop Monday morning and decide what went wrong and what we need to do better, and grow, we'll be fine.
   "If we don't take the time Monday to capitalize on that....If you don't have that foundation, that relationship....."
   Nevertheless Busch, despite all his talents, and all the talent surrounding him, has folded down the stretch the past two years. And he's typically gotten into quite a post-race snit after each problem.
  No cool there.
  Does Busch need to develop a championship cool?
  "We have some great PR people...and I respect Kyle for who he is," Rogers responds with a grin. "I didn't come into this marriage hoping to change the driver. I came into this, knowing what I had – a 24-year-old driver who is very talented but who is 24 years old, and he's got some maturing to do. But I'm 35 and I still have some maturing to do.
   "I'm looking forward to growing with Kyle over the years. And polishing the edges that need to be polished.
   "But I don't want Kyle Busch not to be Kyle Busch.
   "Think back to the great Dale Earnhardt. If he put somebody in the fence, you know what he'd say: 'Look at the film.'
   "And when you remember Dale Earnhardt, you remember he was unique.
   "And Kyle is unique, and I don't want him to lose that."
   Of course there's more here to the head deal:
  Does Busch need to look at the season as a 10-month run, an endurance race, rather than a series of sprints?
  Can Busch and Rogers figure out how to pace themselves so they're not burned out by the time the chase starts in September?
  "We want to run well...and we look at this as two seasons: the pre-chase season and then the chase," Rogers says. "And we'll do it all systematically.
   "You know me; I'm a Clarkson grad, an engineer, so I do things by numbers. And we understand statistically what it takes to make the chase."
   And what it takes to make the chase is to be a top-12 team through the first 26-race regular season. Since there are only five or six super-strong teams, and another five or six so-so powerhouses, that isn't really all that tough.
   Of course that might mean doing what some accused Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus of doing last year – 'stroking' through the regular season...while Tony Stewart burned himself out with that hot charge.
   "A big thing we've talked about in the off-season is managing our expectations," Rogers says.
   That may sound easy, but given Kyle Busch's tendency to run wide open – in Truck, Nationwide as well as Cup – it might be a little tougher than with someone more patient, like Johnson.
   "We don't want to set out expectations so high that we do fall short we fall flat on our face," Rogers explained. "And once you start to stumble, it's tough to pick yourself back up.
   "That's what happens to a lot of teams – you win a lot of races leading up to the chase, and then when you have trouble in the first race of the chase, and then have trouble maybe in the second chase race.....well, all of a sudden your season isn't going the way you wanted it to go, and you start getting frustrated.
   "And frustration breeds more errors.
   "Jimmie and Chad have done exceptionally well at understanding their goals and having a plan. One thing I really appreciate about that team is how calm, cool and collected they are when things go wrong."
   Texas last fall was a classic example. Johnson crashed early, tore up the car pretty badly, but Knaus and crew had a fix-it game plan that was marvelous to watch over the next hour.
   Though Knaus and Johnson only gained 10 points or so with the repair job, the psychological impact of their cool post-crash work was major among rivals.
    "You looked at their faces during all that at Texas, and you'd have almost thought that whole thing was part of their plan," Rogers says in amazement.
   "And that's the kind of approach that it's going to take to beat those guys.
   "A lot of that is mental discipline. Chad's driver believes in what he's doing....and Chad knows his driver has his back. You've got to know your driver has got your back.
    "Go back to Texas last year (where Kyle Busch dominated, in Rogers' debut on the pit box, but ran out of gas in the final miles). We knew we were short on fuel. We didn't miscalculate anything. But we knew we weren't in the chase, and there wasn't the championship on the line, and the best we could finish in the points was 13th....so it made sense to gamble. If we come out with a win, great.
   "Now if we'd pitted, we'd have probably finished third. And then we'd have listened to everyone ask 'Well, why didn't you stay out?'
   "So that was a great opportunity to take a chance. Now this year we may not be able to take that chance...and we won't gamble. It's always risk-versus-rewards.
   "But Kyle knows that, come Sunday morning, if we don't have a car that's capable of winning, I'm going to be changing something. And that goes, regardless of where you are in points.
    "Like at Texas, we were terrible in practice, and Kyle got out of the car and said 'Good luck, bud.' And we started making changes.
    "What makes it all work is knowing your driver has your back...knowing that your driver, when you make a mistake, won't ridicule you, or leave you out on an island. Having that confidence is critical to making those tough calls.
    "And I tell Kyle before each race 'Hey, bring Rowdy.'
    "At Homestead I was pushing Kyle to get up there and try to win the race. I didn't want to run second. And when the car slipped a little bit, I never questioned him.
   "Hopefully he knows I have his back, no matter what happens. I'm never going to question him. I believe in Kyle."


  The best driver in NASCAR? Well, from February through September perhaps (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)




In Cup, he's done. He should

In Cup, he's done. He should of "manned up" and stood by Steve Addington as a team player and step his game up. Maybe one of the reasons Hendrick didn't want to associated with Busch is his "other" interest. Cup, N'wide and Truck. That's a lot on the plate for any car owner to handle. Notice the rifting that's going on between Harvick and Childress.

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