As is often the case after a bad loss, Kyle Busch was back in his motor home and unavailable to the media following Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas. His disappointment was understandable: Busch had a dominant Toyota that led 232 laps and was leading with three laps remaining, but ran out of gas and finished 11th.
Busch was trying for a weekend sweep -- something he's been in position to do before -- and fell just short. He would have been the first driver to win in all three of NASCAR's national series on the same weekend at the same track.
The Cup race is always the toughest to win and the ultimate prize of any NASCAR tripleheader weekend, so losing it in the closing laps was undoubtedly painful for Busch. But it was a successful first outing for Busch and new crew chief Dave Rogers, who moved up from Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide program to replace Steve Addington.
Addington and Busch won 12 races together in less than two seasons, but after an extended slump in the middle of the Cup season, Addington was fired. Busch won three of the opening 10 races this year, but only one, at Bristol, out of the next 23 with Addington. Busch missed the Chase and that sealed Addington's fate with the Gibbs' No. 18.
Texas represents a promising starting point for the Busch/Rogers pairing and it would have been interesting to hear Busch's views on the subject. They likely wouldn't be earth-shattering with words like "chemistry" and "team effort" in the conversation, but they'd have been there, on the record and -- who knows? -- with the sometimes outspoken Busch, maybe we'd have gotten some real insight.
For his part, Rogers thinks he and Busch are moving in the right direction. He turned to teammates Mike Ford(Denny Hamlin's crew chief) and Greg Zipadelli (Joey Logano's crew chief) for a baseline on the car at the start of the weekend, then made changes. It was Rogers' first race with the former Car of Tomorrow, a completely different animal from the previous Cup and current Nationwide cars.
"Mike Ford and Greg Zipadelli helped us out a lot," Rogers said. "They gave us a lot of pointers. We unloaded with the same setup the 11 [Hamlin] car did and worked on it from there. I think we learned a lot today. Right now it's hard to think coherently because of the disappointment we felt, but we're pleased."
Rogers said they thought they had enough fuel to get to the end. Maybe. It seems more likely he was praying for a caution in the last 10 laps to extend Busch's mileage to the checkered flag, but somehow avoid a green-white-checkered finish. They were four miles short. Race winner Kurt Busch had stopped two laps later, three miles, on the previous stop and crew chief Pat Tryson told him not to be concerned because Kyle was going to run out of gas.
"Looking at our numbers there and the lap time that he'd [Kyle Busch] fallen off from what we had previously run, I thought for sure that we were going to make it until off Turn Four in the final lap," Rogers said. "I don't know if we didn't get the car full or the fuel cell just didn't pick up what we thought it could, but we had several green flag runs this race, so we were pretty confident we knew what we had for fuel mileage. I'm not sure what happened. We'll take it back and we'll look at it, learn from it. We'll try to focus on how well we ran and not where we finished today.
"We were committed to staying out. Like I said before, we're out of the Chase and we're not points racing -- we didn't really have anything to lose. If we would have pitted, the 2 car [Kurt Busch] certainly would have beat us. Our only shot at winning it was to stay out. So, we gambled. Sometimes when you gamble you lose. We lost today, but we had a really fast car."
After Busch pitted with two laps to go, he wasn't talking to Rogers, either.
"He's frustrated," Rogers aid. "He didn't say nothing. He said we were out of fuel and after the race, he took his helmet off and went to his motor home and calmed down. I think he handled it well -- it's tough. You lead all these laps and he could have gone for the clean sweep this weekend, win all three in a row. He deserved to win all three in a row and to get beat -- it's tough."
Rogers told Busch they'd try to go the distance. Busch, knowing it was his only chance to win without a caution, didn't argue.
"We didn't really talk about it," Rogers said. "I told him my plan was to stay out and he trusted me and it didn't work. You're going to have days like this. It's discouraging for Kyle, it's hard for myself. We have a lot of our VIPs from our sponsors here as well. There's a lot on the line and today would have been a miracle if we could have won it."
Rogers knows there's pressure on him to raise Busch's performance.
"Welcome to the club, hah," Rogers said. "You know, it's part of the game. It's what you sign up for. Someone's got to do that job and I raised my hand and said I wanted to do it -- and here I am."