After the rain stopped and the smoked cleared on Saturday night, we’re left with a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that doesn’t include two of the sport’s brightest stars.
Neither Kyle Busch nor Carl Edwards is eligible for the Cup championship this season, but that’s all right — based on their respective bodies of work, neither deserves to be.
Call it what you want. Call it a hangover from Edwards’ oh-so-close title loss to Tony Stewart last year, but the fact remains that Edwards hasn’t won a race since March 6, 2011, at Las Vegas.
Though Edwards negotiated one of the most lucrative contract extensions in NASCAR racing last season, the fact remains that he has won just three races since his prolific eight-victory season of 2008.
Edwards made the Chase last year and came within a hairbreadth of the title because he finished second seven times in 36 races. This season, Edwards’ best results are a pair of fifth-place finishes, at Las Vegas and Fontana. That’s simply not Chase-worthy.
Yes, Edwards went through a crew chief change during the stretch drive for the Chase, but even before Chad Norris took over for Bob Osborne in July, Edwards was running a distant third to teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, who scored the most and third-most points among all drivers in the first 26 races.
Edwards isn’t in the Chase because, based on his performance, he doesn’t deserve to be there, and Norris is still auditioning for a job he hopes will become permanent.
Busch’s failure on Saturday night was a stark reminder that Cup racing is indeed a team sport and that the human parts of the equation are just as susceptible to malfunction as the mechanical ones.
When rain interrupted the action for the second time on Lap 275 of 400, crew chief Dave Rogers inexplicably left Busch on the track, rather than making the safe, prudent call to bring him to pit road. Busch entered the race with a 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon, and pitting with other lead-lap cars under that caution would have preserved his advantage.
A dropped lug nut on the right rear tire during Busch’s green-flag stop also cost him positions, but the critical mistake was leaving Busch out on old tires and allowing Gordon to forge ahead on fresh rubber.
In failing to cover an opponent’s move, Rogers broke a cardinal rule of racing, and after Busch lost the second wild-card spot to Gordon by three points — the equivalent of three positions on the track — Rogers beat himself up with both fists.
“I just gave up a chance at a championship for this team, for Kyle and for everyone at M&M’s (Busch’s sponsor), 450 employees at Joe Gibbs (Racing) that worked so hard this year — had a lot of confidence and really hoping for some good things in the Chase — and I feel like I let them down,” Rogers said.
It should, but that one decision isn’t the only reason Busch missed the Chase. In 26 races, Busch has but one victory and six top-fives this season. Last year, he had two wins and six top-fives by race No. 11. Back-to-back engine failures in June, at Dover and Pocono, were crippling blows as it turned out.
Yes, Busch and Rogers should have protected their advantage with a pit stop Saturday night, but there’s plenty of blame to go around.
You win as a team, and you lose as a team, as owner Joe Gibbs reaffirmed after the race.
“We love Dave Rogers,” Gibbs said. “I’ve got to tell you I think he’s one of the brightest and the best. We were there, we were sharing the moment together, we were in this together, and I think we have a great tight-knit team here.
“We all go up together, and if we have a tough night, we all have a tough night together.”
Gibbs’ words aside, whether the Busch/Rogers combination — or the Edwards/Norris pairing, for that matter — stays intact for the start of the 2013 season remains to be seen.
After all, failure has a way of changing things.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author