Kyle Busch celebrated 12 wins with crew chief Steve Addington, including a comeback victory last year at Talladega Superspeedway.
It seemed like a lifetime ago, though, on Friday as Addington prepared for his final weekend with Busch. He’ll call Sunday’s race at Talladega and then hand the job over to Dave Rogers in a firing that admittedly left Addington “pretty confused.”
“Do I agree with it? No,” Addington said. “But it is what it is, and I felt like we had a good run.”
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Busch said the decision was made by team owner Joe Gibbs and president J.D. Gibbs, and it was based on lack of consistency this season.
“It seems like we’re either feast or famine – we’re either going to win the race or finish 30th,” Busch said. “Some of that’s my fault, some of that’s just not having the right stuff for me, and Joe and J.D. felt like we needed to try something new to get something of a more consistent basis and championship-caliber.”
Addington and Busch charged out of the gate at the start of the 2008 season. Busch moved to Joe Gibbs Racing after his firing from Hendrick Motorsports, and Addington got the job of trying to rein in NASCAR’s wild child.
He made it look easy with immediate results. They almost won the season-opening Daytona 500, and did get their first win together three weeks later with a victory at Atlanta.
There were eight wins in all, and Busch led the points standings for 21 weeks. Although they faltered in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship – Busch finished 10th after starting as the top seed – the duo seemed to rebound at the start of this season.
Busch has four more wins this year, but the consistency was off and a summer slump cost him a spot in the Chase. Busch missed the final qualifying spot by just eight points.
Now, six races later, JGR officials decided to make a switch atop the pit box. Rogers, crew chief for JGR in the Nationwide Series, will replace Addington beginning next week at Texas.
“I’m shocked,” said two-time series champion Tony Stewart, who saw the Addington-Busch pairing up close last year at JGR.
“It was like ‘You’re joking, right?’ It was hard to believe that they are splitting that combination up.”
That seemed to be the widespread feeling throughout the garage, where rival crew chiefs seemed puzzled by Addington’s ouster.
“I think it’s tough with so many positive accomplishments to lose your job,” said Alan Gustafson, who spent three seasons as Busch’s crew chief at Hendrick. “It shows the pressure a crew chief is under in this sport and how tough it is. Only time will tell if that’s the right move, but I don’t think it’s fair for Steve. My opinion is he’s done a good job.”
Gustafson and Addington used totally different styles to manage Busch. Gustafson argued with Busch – a lot – in an effort to shape the youngster into the kind of driver he thought Busch could be.
Addington was far more laid-back, and at times this season seemed powerless to stop Busch from having one of his trademark mid-race meltdowns when his car was not up to his liking.
The personality differences may have ultimately been their undoing.
“If a relationship goes stale, it’s stale. You are not going to rekindle it,” said Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate. “You’ve got someone who is rambunctious and someone who is reserved, and it’s tough to keep that going outside the honeymoon period.”
But it’s hard to figure out just what went wrong. Busch’s 12 victories over the last two seasons is second only to three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who has 13 wins – but three in the last five wins.
Busch, meanwhile, hasn’t won since Bristol in August. He did have consecutive top-10s the last two weeks, and Addington’s firing was announced the same day he won the industry’s crew chief of the week award.
“Kyle is so competitive and expects to win every week, which is good,” Gustafson said. “That’s what he’s supposed to do. I think the problem is if it doesn’t happen … that’s where you get into a situation they are in. They haven’t slipped – they still run well – but they didn’t make the Chase. That’s the elephant in the room. That’s the problem, and I don’t know that it’s fair to throw that on Steve, and that’s what’s happened.”