The problems with Kyle Busch’s pit crew are a symptom of problems that RCR is trying to correct

By | March 9, 2024

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Busch will have a new pit crew for the third time in four races this weekend, pointing to a larger problem that Richard Childress Racing is trying to address.

Busch will get two new tire changers and a new jackman for Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox). The changes come after last week’s pit road problems in Las Vegas saw him fall from second to 26th with about 100 laps to go. It’s a continuation of the problems Busch’s team has had on pit road since the Daytona 500.

“We just need a consistent team that isn’t going to make mistakes,” Andy Petree, executive vice president at Richard Childress Racing, told NBC Sports on Friday. “One of the problems with these young guys and development guys is you put them on Kyle’s car and he’s second, they’re trying to win. I’m not sure if they are mentally ready for it.

“They practice and everything and they’re as solid as anyone. How do you recognize that in your people? That’s why we’re making so many changes. We’re trying to find a mix of guys who can handle some pressure and deliver a solid performance, not great. We’re not even looking for stars right now.”

Now that the cars are more equal and so much driver data is available, there are few differences on the track. Denny Hamlin noted Friday that with all the data, drivers will “continue to turn ourselves into the same driver.” That puts more emphasis on the pit lane and those who go over the wall to maintain the car.

“The easiest place to pass someone else is when he or she is sitting still, on pit road,” Kyle Busch said Friday. “So we have to be better on pit road.”

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Petree said the organization is trying to give its development team members more work.

“We put quite a lot of effort into getting one of our development crews on pit road just to give them some experience,” he said. “We have not been successful with it. I don’t know what to do. It’s definitely frustrating.”

Busch spoke last month in Atlanta about the organization’s inability to sign some free agent pit crew members, in part because Richard Childress Racing’s location in Welcome, North Carolina, is about an hour away from where most Cup teams and pit crew members are established.

Petree also mentioned that subject on Friday.

“Our location is hurting us,” he said. ‘We can’t recruit. For us it is a disadvantage to recruit people for Welcome. It’s a tougher challenge than Concord or Mooresville (North Carolina, where some of the teams and crew are based) to be able to recruit people who are already established, really good people. It’s hard to get a hold of them because they don’t want to drive an hour and a half to practice.”

The problem is not new to Richard Childress Racing. That’s been a selling point for some – it’s a far cry from all the other teams – and an obstacle for others.

“But now it’s getting real,” Petree said Friday. “When Richard (Childress) says, ‘I don’t care what it costs. Go get someone.” We tried that. It did not work.”

So what then?

“We are looking at a longer-term solution,” said Petree.

He refused to make those plans public. Petree said the idea of ​​moving pit crews closer to Concord or Mooresville so they don’t have to drive as long is not part of what he is working on, but he said such an idea is “not off the table.”

“We’re looking at it with fresh eyes,” Petree said of what to do next.

But that is further away. Busch needs a better pit crew now.

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Busch admitted that the pit crew’s problems led to him being penalized for speeding and pitting outside the box over the past two weeks.

“If I feel like I’m in a down position when I’m behind, I’m going to try to get extra, I’m going to try to get more,” Busch said. “That led to my speeding fines. That led to me sliding through the box, because I know I have to make up time on pit road myself to compensate for what we lose if we are put in the box.

Petree said he spoke with Busch earlier this week about his attempt to do too much on pit road.

“I talked to him at length on Monday about the points we gave away in Vegas – and we gave away a lot of points,” Petree said. “He slid through those potholes. He says he’s trying to make things right. He knows we don’t have what we need.”

One problem is that Busch is already among the best on pit road – if not the best – in several categories, from pit road entries, pit road rolling time and other categories.

But with Busch already among the leaders in those areas, he can’t build much more of an advantage before or after the pit stop. So any extra effort brings him closer to overspeeding on pit road.

“I know everyone at RCR works hard and works hard… we have what we have,” Busch said. “We have to work through it and if that changes players, then we have to change players and find something that is going to strengthen the pit crew.”

So far, little has worked.

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At the Daytona 500, the car fell off the jack before the left front tire secured, forcing Busch to drive slowly around the track before returning to pit road. Before the issue he was running fourth.

The following week in Atlanta, Busch was penalized for speeding just past the halfway mark, leaving him no chance of scoring points in the second stage.

Then came last week’s troubles in Las Vegas. One change from last week is better communication between the unit to avoid the penalty Busch received for pitting outside the box.

Busch slid into his stall and the front of his car was over the line. The crew serviced the car, which resulted in a fine. No one on the team noticed Busch had crossed the line

“So typically in years past at (Joe Gibbs Racing), we always had a system of – it’s the responsibility of the changer or a guy behind the wall,” Busch said, indicating the car is off the beaten path . “Like one of the pit crew support guys behind the wall just has to jump up and down and wave… We’ve talked about some of those things to put more responsibility on more players so we can’t allow the punishment to continue.”

A solution has been found to address that problem, now the team must find a way to have solid pit stops.

“We have nothing to lose, so let’s make some changes,” Petree said. “Let’s see if we can find a rhythm here. If we do that, and we can get through a few races with some solid guys, we can work on the longer-term solution instead of the fire we’re trying to put out.”

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