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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Busch-Addington becoming solid driver-crew chief combo

After yet another weekend were Kyle Busch won a bunch of races (Nationwide, Cup AND a charity event put on by Denny Hamlin), plus celebrated his 24th birthday by winning his 50th career race across the top three NASCAR series (yeah, I think this kid’s gonna be big someday) … it’s easy to focus on how talented a driver he is.

But one element of his success if often forgotten -- his crew chief and team.

I had a sneaking suspicion all night that Kyle would creep up when the time came to claim the checkered flag, despite other drivers being out front most of the night. But what impressed me most was the work by his crew chief Steve Addington to make the right calls on pit road, both with tire strategy and adjusting the car, that allowed Busch to take the win.

Busch’s car was not perfect all night. It was all over the board, and Kyle spent much of the night explaining to Addington how the car was acting and what needed to be improved. The proper corrections were made, and Busch rode off into the sunset and celebrated his birthday with a burnout.

"I hope the team enjoys this as much as I do," Busch said in Victory Lane. "It's just amazing, man. It's so cool. Steve made the right call on when to pit and when to take four tires versus two tires or no tires or whatever, and it really paid off for us there at the end to be able to have that long run like that and not to have to deal with the 14 and the 31. I knew they were coming.”

This is significant, because Busch’s team was partly responsible for his rough start to the Chase last year, and that doomed his chance at a title. But Addington and the entire #18 team have come back strong, put that in the past, and are clearly one of the favorites to win the Cup this year.

Just as Jimmie Johnson (who had a rare terrible day at Richmond) and his crew chief Chad Knaus are a great team, Busch and Addington are growing into a force to be reckoned with.

Busch’s talent can take him far, but if he’s not on the same page with his crew chief he’ll never win a title. Luckily for him, it appears they are a great combination.

Newman, Stewart-Haas on a tear
Just when I thought comeback of the year was a lock for Mark Martin, here comes Ryan Newman with an amazing return to success after starting the season horrendously.

With a top-5 finish at Richmond, Newman was able to jump into the Chase and sits in 10th place in the points. Just like Martin, it wasn’t long ago when everyone was wondering what was wrong with this team as it stood on the verge of falling out of the top-35 in the standings.

But it appears the Newman of old, the one who used to win races a lot, might be on his way back. The Stewart-Haas team has been the biggest surprise of the season for me, and it’s clear their relationship with Rick Hendrick’s team is paying dividends immediately. Stewart also finished in the top-5 at Richmond, and both he and Newman had cars capable of winning the race.

In just a short time frame to start this season, the question has been changed from “Will a Stewart-Haas driver make the Chase?” to “Will they have a shot at the title?” Everyone knows how great a driver Stewart is, so his success is not a shock. But seeing how poorly Newman did in recent years with Penske, and comparing that to his solid performance now, it’s clear his struggles were team-related and his career has been revitalized by this union with Tony Stewart.


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