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So what's happened to Kyle Busch lately? Oddly off form. Will Dave Rogers give him hot iron for Pocono? | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net

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So what's happened to Kyle Busch lately? Oddly off form. Will Dave Rogers give him hot iron for Pocono?


   Joey Logano: Time to make something happen...and it looks like he is, winning the pole Saturday morning for Sunday's 500: 'Weight lifted," he says of the great Carl Edwards debate (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
   

     By Mike Mulhern
     mikemulhern.net

    

     POCONO, Pa.
     Kyle Busch?
     Since he won his 100th NASCAR national touring event three weeks ago, in the Saturday Nationwide race at New Hampshire, we haven't heard much out of him really.
    When last seen Busch was denting fenders on pit road at Indianapolis with Tony Stewart, en route to a less than thrilling afternoon at the Brickyard.

    Not that Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers have to turn anything around right now, because in the big picture they're still sitting pretty for the playoffs. And they've got some aces they can play before the chase – Bristol, Richmond and Michigan, where they typically run well.
    And maybe here too, in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500, on a track that Busch has finally figured out….though gas mileage – the dominant Sunday story in this sport for too many months now – will in the end probably be the game-winner.
     However it would be nice to start building some momentum for the playoffs.
    Busch's Sunday that weekend in Loudon wasn't very memorable. The car was strangely off, Busch abused his brakes making it turn, and the right-front tire blew when the sealing bead melted: he finished 36th , one of his worst days of the season.
     And last Sunday at Indianapolis was, well, not a day to crow about either.
     Two off-weeks like that give pause for reflection.
    This flat, three-corner track, with its amazingly long frontstretch, has not been a great track for Busch over the years; he's still looking for that first win. But teammate Denny Hamlin has helped Busch become a player here. Busch finished third in June, and he should be a contender again Sunday (1 p.m. ET).
   
   


    Kyle Busch: MIA the last two races? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
   


    Their Brickyard 400 car was off, again. Busch qualified poorly, got banged around on the track and on pit road, never really had a shot at the win. But he did managed to rally to finish 10th .
    Rogers, the guy Busch picked not just to run his team but to get him in the playoffs and help him be a title contender, sees the bright side of it all. And with the chase playoffs just six weeks off, what's it looking like in the Busch-Rogers camp?
    "Indianapolis is just a tough track for us," Rogers reflects. "It takes a completely different setup from anywhere else. And I think I just missed the setup a little bit."
    Busch's Brickyard record is modest: in seven 400s he's got four top-10s but no wins, and an average 13.1-place finish.
   "And then our qualifying (29th) really got us behind, because pit selection is so critical there," Rogers says. "You know you're going to take two tires (on pit stops) a number of times, and when you're pitting near the back, and cars are going by you while you're trying to get out…..
   "We actually got up into the top-10, and we had speed to stay there. And we thought we could get a top-five out of it."
    But then, Busch, pulling out of his pit during a routine stop, got dinged by Tony Stewart, pulling in.
    "We doored each other, and we had to come back in and make repairs, and once we lost track position that late in the race we had to change our strategy. So we went to the fuel mileage strategy.
   "And we still got a top-10 out of it.
   "No, it's not what we wanted to see. But we are actually encouraged, because we'd said that was something we needed to work on this year – turning bad days into good days.
   "Last year we didn't have the ability to do that. If we had a bad day at mid-point, we typically ended up with a bad day. And mid-point at Indy we looked like we were having a bad day…but we actually made something out of it.
    "We walked away disappointed with our speed on the track and the way things worked out. But we were real excited we were able to turn something around. The five-time champions (Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus) have done that a number of times…."
  

  


  
Denny Hamlin: Mr. Pocono, and a Sunday favorite, but oddly off this season. Can he rebound for the playoffs? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

  


   Busch, though still just 25, has been one of the sport's top drivers for years.
   Still, when it comes to the championship stretch, Busch has a lot to prove.
   Haunted by that 2008 playoff collapse? Busch that season had a league-leading eight wins going into that chase, but problems the first three races blew him out of the title hunt. In 2009 Busch missed the playoff cut. And in 2010 a blown engine at California, four races into the playoffs, took Busch and Rogers out of the hunt.
   Is this the season that Busch and Rogers put all those disappointments behind them?
   They've got three tour wins already (Bristol, Richmond and Kentucky), and they could also have had wins at Phoenix, California, Martinsville, Dover, Pocono and Michigan.
    And that should put them in good stead for the playoffs.
    "I'm thankful we have three wins….it's very tough, though," Busch says. "We got the points lead after Phoenix, then blew up in Vegas and fell back.
   "We worked our way back up to the points lead (after winning Martinsville), but fell back again.
    "Worked our way back up to the points lead going into Loudon (after winning Kentucky)….and then had a problem and fell back to fifth."
    With three wins and barring a complete collapse, Busch and Rogers are shoe-ins for the playoffs. "So we can take some pretty good gambles, like we did at Indy," Busch says. "We were going to finish about 30th …. so we came in and got fuel (a late top-off) and stretched it the three laps we were short."
    Gas mileage finishes: is that a problem to be solved in this sport right now, or just something to be endured?

  
   

   


    Crew chief Dave Rogers (standing), and Kyle Busch (L) and Joey Logano. Time for Joe Gibbs' guys to bounce back? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
   

   

   

   THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK

  Thinking that resolution to the Carl Edwards drama may leave the NASCAR garage without speculation to ponder?
  Think again.
  Now that Edwards has finally signed a new contract, to stick with Ford's Jack Roush, the man who brung him to this party in the first place, it's time to try to figure out just what the heck was going on here….though it may take weeks, even months, before the full Edwards story comes out.
  Despite the spin doctors' spin, there is the nagging sense that this thing didn't play out just the way it's been portrayed.
  One basic issue here is really simple -- since Edwards has been working for Roush since 2003, came within a nose of winning the 2005 Cup championship with Roush, had that eight-win season in 2008, and closed out 2010 with back-to-back wins at Phoenix and Homestead – it's hard to understand all this talk about doing 'due diligence' in analyzing the Roush-Ford operation against the rivals, principally Joe Gibbs-Toyota.
  If Edwards hasn't figured out Jack Roush and the Roush-Ford deal after working there for more than eight years…..
 
  So now one question might be this: how might the chemistry in the Roush camp have been changed, by Edwards' lengthy negotiations and apparent willingness to move on elsewhere?
 
    Edwards is suddenly Ford's proclaimed top-dog, and who knows what all Ford execs threw at him to persuade him to stay.
   One story is that Edsel Ford himself intervened, with promise of a car dealership for Edwards and some stock option plan.
   How long the contract is is still unclear; one report, unconfirmed, since no one is talking on the record, says three years, probably with options.
  
   With the championship playoffs looming, and Edwards atop the Sprint Cup standings, and working toward what would be his first Cup title, how will teammates Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan be looking at him?
   The chemistry of a multi-car team is very tricky, at best.
    Remember Dale Earnhardt versus teammate Mike Skinner back in the day? Remember Denny Hamlin versus Kyle Busch? Remember Kenseth versus Edwards?
    All in all it is almost remarkable how relatively smoothly the four-team Rick Hendrick operation has been running.
   And considering the Roush chemistry issue, how might that affect the championship, looming. Edwards is making a run at it, Kenseth is making a run at it, and Biffle is trying to get back into the hunt.
   Will Edwards have to mend fences?
   Or is it all just back to business as usual.
  
  
  


   Joe Gibbs: Did rival Jack Roush win the game, the battle for Carl Edwards? What's the real story here? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
  


  And while Roush is settling his deals, what about the guys working the other half of this situation, the men at Joe Gibbs? Will there be a fourth Gibbs Sprint Cup team, and if so who will drive, and with what sponsor? Or is that whole thing now dead?
   If Edwards had taken the deal to run the Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs – a scenario no one has exactly laid out cleanly on the record – with the goal of taking the marketing game right straight at Lowe's and Jimmie Johnson, that would have been fine and dandy for HD. Edwards is one of the few who could beat Johnson in a title chase.
    However now Home Depot execs have to be rethinking their NASCAR game plan.
   If HD gave Gibbs a blank check to use in signing Edwards – again a scenario no one has exactly laid out cleanly on the record -- who might be the next in line on the HD list of drivers?
    Or might Home Depot simply decide they don't want to play this game any more.
   And where does all this leave Joey Logano? The rising star just turned 21, and he is still learning the game, and it may have been a long-shot for Gibbs and Home Depot to expect Logano to mature quickly enough to challenge Johnson and Lowe's for the title when they signed him to what is apparently a five-year contract with Home Depot…a contract that would run through the end of 2013.
   There has been speculation for several months now that Home Depot gave Gibbs something of an ultimatum, to find a driver who could challenge Johnson and Lowe's for the championship….or Home Depot might simply quit the sport. Again, no official confirmation; but Home Depot has won NASCAR championships twice, with Tony Stewart, and losing five straight years to arch-rival Lowe's has to hurt. Especially with Johnson lining up for a sixth straight.
   And during all the speculation about Edwards moving in, there has been no ringing endorsement of Logano as the company's man.
  
   Adding to all this, there has been speculation for several months now about a shakeup in the Toyota engine operations.
   Toyota has its own NASCAR engine building department, and Joe Gibbs has had his own, headed by almost-legendary Mark Cronquist.
   The speculation here is that Toyota would bringing all its engine building under one department, perhaps merging Gibbs with TRD. In part that might be to fill in some of the blanks left by the imminent departure of mega-sponsor Red Bull.
   Now there is more speculation that Cronquist himself might be picked to head Toyota's TRD operations, based near Los Angeles.
   Despite all the talk about Gibbs' engine woes this season – something like 11 blown motors --- Cronquist-powered teams have won more races the past three years than any other NASCAR operation.
   
  
   In what could be a related situation, giant auto parts dealers NAPA could be looking around. Despite long ties with Michael Waltrip, NAPA hasn't had much success lately on the stock car tour (one reason, perhaps, for the crew chief shuffle earlier this summer).
   Martin Truex Jr., since leaving DEI to join MWR, hasn't had much to write home about. His lone Cup tour win came back in 2007, when driving for DEI. He moved to Toyota and MWR in 2010; but his best finish was a sixth at Martinsville that year, and he failed to make the playoffs. This summer the team is mired 23rd in the standings.
   Now Waltrip himself has done an admirable job promoting NAPA. However, in the shark-filled waters of the NASCAR garage, if NAPA is looking around, there are certainly plenty of team owners willing to make a pitch. Roush and Richard Childress both are looking for big-buck sponsors for their Cup teams; Gibbs too, for that possible fourth team.

  
  
    While the Brickyard is now in the rear-view for these playoff-bound teams, and another 3-1/2-hour challenge lies ahead here, and then next week it's lightning-fast Watkins Glen…the question remains: how to fix the Brickyard, how can NASCAR put on a better show there, where it's nearly impossible to pass?
    One possible move would be for NASCAR to drop the gimmicky 'wave around' rule. That's ostensibly designed to make viewing a race easier for novice fans, because the actual leader of the race is always up front for a restart. To do that, NASCAR allows, during yellows, drivers who are nearly a lap down, and running just ahead of the leader on the track, but on the tail end of the lead lap, to drive all the way around the track to the rear of the field for the restart.
   That rule may have outlived its purpose. And these days that rule not only gives a big break to many drivers for free, it also gives the race leader clean air for the restart. As important as clean air is, the leader can typically blow away from the field.
   By reverting to the old rule and dropping the 'wave around,' the race leader would actually have to fight through traffic to get to clean air. And that should make for a much better show for the fans.
   Finding any crew chiefs and drivers interested in that move is difficult, though; they like the 'free pass,' which can help them get back in the game.

    Now all that is certainly food for fodder….

  

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